Interview with Fred Moten, 2014 National Book Award Finalist, Poetry


The Feel Trio by Fred Moten Fred Moten

The Feel Trio

Letter Machine Editions

Photo credit: Kari Orvik

Interview by Sandra Lim

SL: How does it feel to be nominated for the National Book Award?

FM: It feels a little strange but very nice; and I hope all of the folks whose voices are in my head and in the book get some pleasure from the nomination, as well.

SL: The ideas, references, and sounds in The Feel Trio are contemporary and historical, intimate and expansive, philosophical and demotic—how did you decide upon the form for this work? Can you talk about your process in assembling this book?

FM: I was just trying to honor my commitment to the idea that the contemporary and historical, the intimate and expansive, and the philosophical and demotic were never separate, or supposed to be separate, anyway. I wanted to make interesting patterns with what I hear in and out of my own head and I wanted the three sequences to play to, and sometimes against, one another. Ultimately, the form of the book, and the various forms in the book, were a function of many decisions, a few of which were mine, as well as many refusals of and resistances to decision. I wanted to figure out how to collaborate with accident, too.

SL: In addition to poetry, you also write critical theory; when did you discover that you wanted to write poetry?

FM: I’ve been writing poetry since I was 11 or 12 years old. It was something fun that I did with schoolmates and I find that it’s always been most fun and most rewarding when done in the company of others who also want and like to make poems.

SL: One of my favorite lines from the book is “I run with code that’s a matter of tone.” What qualities of voice interest you the most in your poetry?

FM: I’m most interested in the qualities that break and augment and distort the voice. One of the artists whose sound stayed in my head while working on the book was Roger Troutman, leader of the great funk band, Zapp. I haven’t pulled it off yet but I would love to figure out a way to let words do things to voices that would be reminiscent of the kinds of manipulations of voice he accomplished with the vocoder.

SL: You write that The Feel Trio is Cecil Taylor, William Parker, and Tony Oxley; how do you see the relationship between performance space (perhaps more specifically the performance space of the ensemble) and the space of the lyric?

FM: The space of the lyric is a space for dance. Listening to the Feel Trio (Taylor/Oxley/Parker) is listening to dance. People make music, make the space they inhabit, with their motion and stillness. I hope the book continually moves into and out of position, continually rises and falls. I’d be happy to know that it makes and finds some recess in your head.

Sandra Lim is the author of The Wilderness (W.W. Norton, 2014), selected by Louise Glück for the 2013 Barnard Women Poets Prize, and a previous collection of poetry, Loveliest Grotesque (Kore Press, 2006). The recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Getty Research Institute, she is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.