Robert Lort is an Australian writer who has worked across theoretical, fictional and poetic realms inspired by everything from Surrealism to post-modernism to avant-garde music and film. Robert Lort maintains the Azimute website http://www.azimute.org, is a regular art critic for various journals and an original member of the SpeedPoets collective based in Australia.
David Hoenigman: Who or what has influenced your writing?
Robert Lort: I am influenced by a diverse mishmash of things and probably least of all by other writers, I am more likely to be influenced by films, music or art history. I always need to begin with at least a trace of something, an image or concept, then I indulge in a lot of transverse collaging of one media into another, of cause, my work is very visual, like film, but even more so, like the film you could not make. I am fascinated by the images of Helnwein, Hieronymous Bosch or those of HR Giger. I think performance art, particularly the work of body artists during the ’70s, which I find intensely volatile and gruesome, can be very lucrative.
DH: What books are you reading now?
RL: I’m currently reading Michel Foucault’s “Abnormal, Lectures at the College de France 1974-1975.” I find the evolution of the disciplinary institutions of law and psychiatry during the 19th century very fascinating, particularly as it relates to peculiarities and unclassifiable anomalies, many of which still haunt us and are still unresolved, concepts such as plague, hermaphrodites, masturbation, the monstrous etc. Should someone born with two heads be baptized once or twice?
DH: You appear to be conversant with post-modernism, how has that influenced your writing?
RL: Post-Modernism is very much a blanket term used by marketers for what is really a huge diversity of ideas, I don’t really think there would be too much consensus. I am only familiar with specific writers, for instance, I maintain the Azimute website which publishes texts concerning the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Guattari’s little known short fiction “Sepulchre for an Oedipus Complex” (Déraision, désir) with it’s nightmare mix of Kafka and Lewis Carroll is something I keep returning to. As for the influence of post modernism, my work plays with notions such as cut-ups, non-linearity, the fragmentation of psyche, deterritorialization, body becomings, language as flux, language pushed to it’s limits. Other writers, like Pierre Guyotat, Kenji Siratori and Jake Chapman have taken the Burroughs cut-up to the extreme, generating the hacked machine code of language, on reading their work one feels like one has to re-learn how to read.
DH: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
RL: I feel that we are very much living in a dying culture, William Burroughs, Kathy Acker and only recently, JG Ballard have all now departed this earthly world, but what has replaced them? The death of the author has occurred, but not in the sense that Roland Barthes described. I don’t think you will find new writers and new ideas in the paperback section of the local supermarket. If at all, it will be buried somewhere on the Internet or rippling through bohemian cafe joints. We are all forced to live in a very plugged-in, virtualized, fractured, hyper-pixellated world. Warhol pronounced that we get 15 minutes of fame, but today, I feel it’s more like 15 seconds. I myself have very little time to read. Lately I have been reading books by Carlton Mellick, the key linchpin of the emerging bizarro genre – I really get off on his quirky and surreal, black-humor. Also, Michael Gira’s The Consumer I found to be a vicious and amazingly intense read.
DH: How do you personally find and distinguish good writing from bad?
RL: I have a profound way of sensing this almost straight off, of course, genuinely original ideas, something that hits you with the unexpected, catches you off guard, out-smarts you, takes you where you’ve never been before, makes you stand back and go ouch! I like writing that has strong individualistic character, on the edge, something clearly disinterested in conforming to market genre, hype or imitation. I find Amazon listmania a very lucrative source. I remember reading a CD review of Penderecki’s “Matrix 5” which went, “Look, the number of people who abhor this kind of stuff must be several billion. Ignore them. Yes, this is unforgivingly dissonant, elitist, at times physically painful music (as any piece about the bombing of Hiroshima should be), but if you listen and you let it draw you in, it can remind you (or teach you for the very first time) that there are places music can take you, states that music can put you in, that the vast majority of “music lovers” will never understand. But that’s okay, there’s plenty of PRODUCT out there for them…” Well of course, I own that CD.
DH: What projects are you currently working on?
RL: I have just completed my Desert Island Poems list, basically your 10 favorite poems and why you like them. I have always been obsessed by lists, one of my earliest findings was the RE/Search Industrial Culture Handbook which included after each interview, lists of books and films that influenced each artist. Over the years, many of these artists had piled up extensive libraries of radical material, it was like being able to rummage through their entire bookshelf or CD stack. That led me to rummaging through video stores, crossing out films as I saw them. This was like my first introduction to names like Xenakis, Jodorowsky and Lautreamont.
DH: When you mention Tristian Tzara on your list of favorite poems, you state that Dada was superior to Surrealism – how?
RL: The key innovations of 20th century art were already present in the work of Dada – particularly Duchamp, Max Ernst, Kurt Schwitters, Man Ray, Hans Richter… many of which, it is true, followed on with the Surrealists. Surrealism was a regression for many reasons, Surrealism tried to align itself with communism, where as Dada shouted anarchism, Surrealism was tied to the Freudian couch, where as Dada thumbed it’s nose, Surrealism was fixated on painterly artwork, where as Dada was more directed towards performance, installations, film and sound poetry, Surrealism was tightly centralized around Paris, whereas Dada was never centralized geographically, Surrealism was a hierarchical members-only club, riddled with expulsions, even Dali got kicked out for, in part, making jokes about Lenin, where as Dada had no rules, anyone and anything can be Dada.
DH: Your writing has been described as “grotesque and heinously dark,” yet I am surprised to find you remarkably amicable and funny?
RL: People always say that about people like Tom Waits or Diamanda Galas, I don’t think we could approach what we do long term, if we didn’t see some sort of perverse humor in it all. I think wit and irony very much function as a sort of trap door or escape hatch. As nearly all poets, apart from myself, write from personal experience, I get some very strange reactions, “you mean you’re not normally in a straight jacket?”. I guess I can just go out there, feel the textures that are there, but always come back. I can crawl into the darkest and creepiest corners of my mind, see what turns up and report back, I don’t have to stay there. I am always just fascinated by what is there, about pushing that little bit deeper, how far does it go? What is beyond that? Of cause, after a few years you get very good at playing the game, like an expert on horror films, who can’t get their kicks no more.
DH: What are your thoughts on publishing, have you found it difficult to obtain publishers?
RL: I’ve had dealings with several publishers in the past, most of which have been protracted and ultimately disintegrated. There are very few radical publishers out there, least of all in Australia, there are few people who understand my work, least of all publishers, I am regarded as too intellectual or literary. I find my work is much more accepted in an art realm, but then it isn’t something to be hung on a wall. But, I am hoping to release some new material through selected e-zines in the coming months. I think net publishing is the only way to go, you don’t have to compromise to the imperative of contrived market retardation and it’s available to everyone and that’s what counts.
DH: Can you tell us about SpeedPoets?
RL: SpeedPoets started out, many years ago as a small group of outsiders who started their own open-mic poetry event, much in opposition to the prevailing stultifying outlets. The ‘speed’ meant that you got up and read a short poem or segment, then someone else, it was very fast paced, so that there was constant change and diversity, a constantly shifting style and emphasis, that kept the attention, nothing could ever be long winded. We always performed with backing musicians, one day someone brought in Brian Eno’s Ambient 4 On Land which became a fixture for a some time. Much has changed, some have moved on, but it has certainly grown in popularity.
DH: Henry Rollins once remarked, “…if I heard ‘spoken word’. It would be something I’d run the other way from. It just sounds like it’d be pretentious and boring and long-winded and just kind of excruciating.” How do you approach spoken word?
RL: I think poetry is susceptible to all sorts of very worn-out clichés; morning afters, lost loves, diary poems, hangovers, the view out my window, sunrise stirrings, Bukowski imitations… so it’s actually very easy to subvert, deconstruct and disrupt that flow. To do spoken word well is actually one of the hardest things, what works well on the page, seldom works in-front of an audience, and what works well in-front of an audience, often looks flimsy on the page. The beer fuelled, gritty and dirty loudmouths of performance pub poetry are full of immediate, short and cheap lyricism which for the most part the publishing establishment hardly consider worthy, but at the same time more developed, literary and intricate material will simply fall flat in such a context. Both forms have strikingly different styles, audiences, supporters, domains of influence and spheres of development. Henry Rollins is certainly an intriguing and multi-faceted character, by contrast he’s also stated that spoken word, “has more integrity, DIY ingenuity, spontaneity, subversion, lack of rules, and fury in its little finger than most of today’s ‘punk’ bands could muster in their entire rotting carcass,” – and that’s coming from Rollins.