AN INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES REZNIKOFF IN PROVIDENCE BY MAIREAD BYRNE
MB: You published your own books?
CR: Yep, well, by and large. The Objectivist Press was pretty much a few guys self-publishing together, sort of a publishing circle-jerk. Then after I came to Providence Black Sparrow did a lot. But to a large extent, I published my own work. I took maximum care of the minimal audience I had.
MB: But in what sense were the books your own? I mean, I can see that the Black Sparrow Press books were "Charles Reznikoff's" (rather than John Martin's or Seamus Cooney's or anyone else's). But *Testimony* and *Holocaust* are books compiled from the recorded words of others: is this a type of robbery?
CR: Probably. I robbed from the poor, who don't even have to be acknowledged by name. If I'd tried the same thing with Oppen or Zukofsky, they might have stung me.
MB: Right. I'm on a listserv and ran into trouble recently for stitching together a piece of writing using the words of two other members.
CR: What's a listserv?
MB: I'm not too sure. It's a form of self-publishing. It's also a place of refuge.
CR: So your use of your fellow members' words was an inappropriate type of appropriation, partly because they're writers too and them's thar words and partly because you're all fellow-sufferers in the lists of the world and it was a breach of confidence?
MB: I dunno. I didn't respect the little pointy flags declaring ownership. You got away with "Testimony" and "Holocaust" because the people you were ripping off didn't know about it.
CR: And yet I think of these books as acts of modesty, and also very delicate recognition and intimacy.
MB: I know what you mean.
CR: Yeah, I wrote and published books I didn't write. Who doesn't? Maybe I made the books more with my fingers than with my ego. Or maybe my ego is a set of stubby, careful fingers. Then again, I also wrote books for which I didn't claim authorship, like "Early History of a Sewing-Machine Operator."
MB: Quotation marks are a form of currency within certain writing economies. Mostly, writers strip images and words from those powerless to do anything about it. You do this in a very naked way; yet you also make the writer a very naked figure, tremulously pedestrian. You plod alongside convention. But anyway-know anywhere I could get a flat tire fixed on the fourth of July?
CR: You could try Pep Boys.