Somerville Poet/Philosopher Jody Azzouni: A Poet who works
within his limitations
Jody Azzouni is a
poet who works within his own limitations. This accomplished
bard and Philosophy Professor at Tufts University believes we
can't see these limits because of our own "blind spots." And
like many writers, Azzouni does quite well within the confines
of his own limits.
Azzouni has been
writing since he was twelve: Poetry, Fiction, Philosophy. He's
been a professor in the philosophy department at Tufts
University since 1986, and lives in Somerville. His most recent
book of poetry is Hereafter Landscapes, published
with the Poet's Press. I talked with him on my Somerville
Community Access TV Show: " Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer."
You describe yourself as a "New Yorker." Define that.
Jody Azzouni: The first thing I would say about it is
that involves a lot of caffeine. There is a high speed element
to being a New Yorker. You move more quickly—you
if you don't show it. So I see that as an essential element of
my personality. That's a more positive thing than saying I have
a Attention Deficit Disorder.
DH: In your view, according to one of your philosophy
books: Talking About Nothing: Numbers, hallucinations and
fictions much that we talk about in poetry and fiction
as well as mathematics and science doesn't exist in any sense at
JA: The easiest examples are fictional characters. They
don't exist. I also make strange claims. As a philosopher I
believe there are no mathematical objects. Yet mathematics is
indispensable to the sciences. It shows up everywhere. And yet I
claim none of those mathematical terms refer to anything. So in
many cases we use things that are not real, to get at things
that are real in an indirect way. It is hard too do it directly.
Either because what we are trying to get to is too complicated
or because we don't know enough about it. Like when we talk
about dreams--we are not talking about real events; we are
actually talking about certain psychological events or
neurological events. We are talking about it in a way we have
access to it.
DH: You teach Philosophy at Tufts University, and you are
a published poet. Does your academic calling weave into your
JA: Not really. At least not that I am aware of. It is
one person, me, who is writing the short stories, another person
who is writing the poetry and another the philosophy. There must
be some continuity but I am not aware of it. When I sit down to
write a poem I am not thinking about philosophy--although
philosophical ideas come up.
DH: Is poetry more intuitive than philosophy?
JA Officially speaking yes. But the way I do it—no.
Instinct shows up in both fields for me. Craft and the same
mixture of conscious and unconscious elements appear.
DH: You say you don't incorporate your past in your
poetry. How can you avoid this?
JA: In some sense I am incorporating my memories.
What I am not doing is something largely autobiographical. I
don't tell stories or borrow characters from my past, etc... I
make up a lot of stuff. I am more like a dramatic poet who is
masquerading as a Confessional poet. A lot of my poems that I
write are in the first person. I am a Dramatic Confessional poet
I suppose. I act. I like to do this because I really like to get
into different sensibilities.
DH: You say we all work within our limitations. What are
JA: I am the wrong person to ask. I work within them so I
really can't see them. We all have blind spots. Like in John
Cheever's short stories, I noticed that nobody seems to be
friends-no discussion of friends. This is a dimension that does
not seem to be part of his work. Whether Cheever knew this or
not I have no idea. But with most writers—they
can't say which element is missing. Sometime this limitation can
make the work unusual. I feel Kafka's writing has many
that is what makes it unusual.
small dark, cozy
like holding hands
that block the light between them.
Surprisingly, this is a good thing.
We pond together; skinny-dip beneath the sheets.
Only the eyes, their pupils expanding like hopes,
draw light and offer it pooled and sweetened,
the dim dispersed by twinned glows.