Coffeehouses and Fight Clubs
Alex White interviews Eric Raanan Fischman, author of Mordy Gets Enlightened.
Eric Raanan Fischman is a poet, he received his MFA from Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics where he co-founded Semicolon, a student-run publication utilizing letterpress and DIY technologies. He is co-editor of The Hive, the journal of Innisfree Poetry Bookstore in Boulder. His first collection, Mordy Gets Enlightened, was recently released by The Little Door Press at Lunamopolis.
Jetting down the freeway to meet up with Eric. Why rush. Catch him outside the pub with a veggie hot dog. Zig to east end, get an illegal burrito. Discuss super heroes and dreamscapes. Maybe reality isn’t so real after all. Or at least we found out we have the power to make it our real. Zag to the west and get some coffee and jasmine tea. I see, I see. Yes I see. I thought I saw a little gnome jump into his cup, giggling madly. As if my life depended on it, I asked the questions an interviewer is supposed to ask. Finding out vital information. Information that informs.
Sitting in the coffee shop Eric’s voice resonated off the brick walls and wooden worn floors. His faded grey and orange backpack carried with it a sort of wisdom, slung over his shoulder. It contained the library of all the books ever written, that ever will be written, and all the books never written and their sequels. When he sets it down it lands with a weighty thud. Slicked back pony tied hair, thin rimmed glasses, and a beard with a little white in it. When we spoke, it was story after story. The man speaks in stories.
Eric grew up in an orthodox Jewish community in Flatbush, Brooklyn. He had his first formative poetic experience in Riverdale Bronx where he moved with his mom after a divorce. A high school poetry teacher explaining iambic pentameter in Dickenson, yelling the accents made it clear to Eric that words are messy. They have a life of their own, and you can mess with their messiness. Being compassionate on the page is one of the best things you can do for yourself, he says. Make a mess on the page. Go ahead, do it. Forgive yourself for that mess. So you write a page full of mess. Okay? Yes. What’s the worst you’ve done? Made a page of art? Great.
At one point during our conversation Eric was talking about Mordy’s birthplace in Bhanu Kapil’s class and the person sitting next to us asked him to repeat what he’d just said. Apparently he is taking the class too, and couldn’t give higher praise. Bhanu Kapil works magic. Then suddenly the whole row on our side of the coffee shop bustled with action in recognition and shared praise of Naropa, and gratitude for the stories Eric was telling. His break down of poetry, his call for compassion on the page. One person wasn’t a member of the Naropa clique but said they wanted to join the cult. When the person sitting directly next to us got up to leave, Eric gave him a copy of his book spontaneously.
When Eric moved to Colorado after a two day visit with a childhood friend, he began on a mad dash to learn all the rules of poetry so he could break them as fast and as hard as he could.
Then he slowed down. He let the words slow him down. Vying to break the notions of what poetry is and can be. Finding out what walls he leans on, then gently falling through them.
He looks for poetry that surprises him. The people he draws inspiration from, and the poetry he enjoys the most is the poetry of the people surrounding him. He has a key insight into their lives, and therefore their writing. He believes a different kind of joy comes from understanding the poem from a process perspective. Seeing what makes it tick.
“There’s Compassion and that’s it.”
Mordy knows that he can feel safe. One day Mordy woke up enlightened. He let Eric know that he is allowed to be loved. That we are all allowed to be loved. He wants to be able to help the reader heal through his words. He heals himself through words. He has had many experiences of healing reading poetry, especially the poetry of the people close to him. He doesn’t want to be highfalutin with his speech, because that only serves to alienate the reader. It is not a relationship of higher and lower, it is equal. We are on the journey together. Talk to the reader. As if they were sitting right beside you in a cafe.
Adjusting his glasses and the beads on his wrist he spoke about invoking a different experience of the world in the reader. Giving them a new lens to view the world through. Eric had an experience like this at MOMA in New York with his friend Alex. In the exhibit at MOMA performance artists and their postures, bodies, clothes were the art. A man in a business suit laid out on a table with a skeleton laid on him in his exact posture. A naked woman on a tricycle 15 feet in the air. Two people with their hair tied together. At the end of the exhibition there was a slab of concrete laid out for the viewers to try. Alex laid down on the concrete slab with his backpack acting as a pillow, and two people walked over and observed him asking, “What does Alex mean?” When he left it seemed as if every person was a piece of art. What did they mean? Why were they wearing what they were wearing, what did this posture mean, what does it mean for that person to have that hairstyle?
Poetry gave him a new filter through which to view the world.
It can’t be expressed. Express it.
It can’t be done. Do it.
Walking to the back of a pitch black house, we enter it and the smell of spices hit my nose. We search for a light with a smaller phone light and take off our shoes. I’m still not 100% sure that we aren’t just breaking into a house at this point. Then Eric says he is texting Lee F.G. that we are here and ready to start. Well that’s comforting. Once Lee arrives we share some yerba mate and talking for a while. Then Lee was inspired by my snake tattoo to start the evenings lessons as it were. He taught us a basic snake style exercise and then we played chess. Not the Kings and Queens and check mate chess, but strike defend strike defend chess. A mid-paced mind and body game maneuvering how to attack and defend with an opponent. Then we played push hands, where the goal is yin and yang excellence, and trying to throw your opponents yin-yang off balance. If you moved your feet or lost balance you lost. It was all connected around circles and posture and internal strength. After fighting we had more yerba mate, and I somehow discovered that the best kush is to be found at the lesbian bar. To end the night out me and Eric went to the pub and realized we didn’t want to be at the pub and then we went home. It was good.