Lonnie Monka: Larry, you seem to have led a rich life filled with creative activity and family, while also having crossed paths with many of the top literary figures of the Beats and early New York School poets. What has been the biggest impact on your creative activities and literary associations since deciding to emigrate to Israel? Have you felt more or less inspired and/or productive post-aliyah?
Elazar Larry Freifeld: Not really, the basics remain the same wherever you are. Language is a repository of culture and since I was culturally Jewish in America I am even more so here in Israel. The transition of my ethos as a poet from the US to Israel was made easier by the fact that there was already a well established community of expatriate English language writers and poets from throughout the world in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa.
First off, there’s no ‘biggest impact’ on my work beyond what inspires me in the moment; something I hear or touch or read. In this I am a romantic and write in series, until another experience triggers my imagination to embark on another poem. ‘Passion rules the universe’ says Isaac Babel, and the true traveler ‘goes only to get away’ [Charles Baudelaire]. Poems are like little boats in passing….
LM: Part of being a poet is consistently pondering and sometimes even answering questions about the meaning of poetry. Do you have any advice you would give to a young aspiring poet?
ELF: Writing a poem is both process and end-product. “If one could just sit down and write what is in his heart it would be a great book” said Edgar Allen Poe. Don’t ‘think’ poem before you write it. It may or may not originate in thought but rather in feeling or overhearing or seeing or any of the five senses or combination of perception(s). It may even be extra-terrestrial! It is in part an act of discovery and like a mistake, it can never be entirely calculated. Keep an open heart and listening ear, all great art is ‘appropriation’ of what is already there. ‘We are transmitters’, (D.H. Lawrence) conveyances of popular wisdom and prophets of the absurd. Study the classics if you will, follow the rules of the game like chess, then break them but with intelligence and meaning, when you find it.
LM: In your interview with Allen Ginsberg, he mentioned that your poetry reminds him of Charles Resnikov’s work. Do you imagine yourself as writing in his, or anyone else’s lineage? Moreover, who are your biggest influences, and have you ever had a poetic mentor?
ELF: To be honest with you, I can’t imagine why Ginsberg compared me to Resnikov as I was never a great reader or admirer of his work; except that we both wrote in the vernacular. So did Carl Sandburg.
No, I never had mentors because I ran away from school when I was 11 years old and didn’t graduate high school until I was 35. There were however many poets both classical and modern who influenced my writing. Too numerous here to mention… lately I have been enamored by Apollinaire and Voznesenski. Found some good things to steal!
I was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan before it became the East Village and my first readings at St. Marks Church, ca 1965 (run by Joel Oppenheimer and Paul Blackburn) hosted many great poets from both the California Renaissance of beat poets headed by Jack Spicer, Gregory Corso, and Allen Ginsberg, and the NY School headed by John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and David Shapiro. If I were to proscribe a circle of poets with whom I most congregated, it must include Jackson MacLow, Paul Blackburn, Jerome Rothenberg, Ted Berrigan, Armand Shwerner, Vito Acconci, Dick Higgins, and especially Tuli Kupferberg. I will never forget a reading I attended of John Berryman reading his sonnets.
As the 60’s progressed into the 70’s I grew more aligned with Dick Higgins at Something Else Press who represented the international concrete poetry movement headed by Emmett Williams and a list of other European and South American poets. Moving to Israel was simply a fulfilment of being a poet and also being a Jew, culturally. I’m not sure I could ever have attained that in America being ‘a Jew writing Hebrew in the ghetto’ as a friend once described my work. Here in Israel I have achieved this balance along with many other expatriated Jewish poets from English speaking countries from throughout the world.
LM: How often do you write these days? And how would you describe your current work? In other words, please tell us a bit about your muse as well as what we can expect to read from you in the future.
ELF: I write less nowadays since I recently discovered that ‘I am myself the poem’. They are mostly seasonal and largely appropriated. I devote a lot of time these days like Ezra Pound collecting and editing poems and stories already written.