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Driver 8: Felino A. Soriano is America’s Experimental Poet

March 26, 2013

Yusef Komunyakaa, Barbara Jane Reyes, Sherman Alexie, Denise Frohman, Major Jackson, Cathy Park Hong, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz.

Poet Felino A. Soriano

© Felino A. Soriano

Add to the list Driver 8—Felino A. Soriano.

Over the last seven years, Felino A. Soriano has established himself as “America’s Experimental Poet,” publishing several thousand poems that refute mainstream notions of what poetry should be. I had the chance to “e-mail/message/and chat” with Soriano over the course of a week, right before spring. As I raced to catch up during the interview, I couldn’t help but think of R.E.M.’s “Driver 8”—for a different reason: Soriano’s vision, his output from ’06 to ’13 has been nothing short of relentless. And I mean that in the most respectful sense. During the first half of the interview, I was conscious of being the “train conductor,” and I might as well have been singing, “Take a break Driver 8 Driver 8 take a break/We’ve been on this shift too long.” But somewhere along the iron tracks, a poet-driver dropped a “Late Slip” into my glass jar. And I realized it was I who needed the break.

We would talk about the silence, whistles and trees, our own children. And the interview started to feel like a real conversation, as I felt more comfortable opening up; and maybe after all is said and done, that’s what “experimental poetics” is meant to bleed: a comfortable environment where we’re not re-hashing the “monotonous modes,” but instead, are proclaiming red subjectivity. Proudly. And it could be about a Duane Locke or a Kirk Gibson homerun, working with autistic kids or seeing my own daughter retreat into silence because a daddy yelled too hard. Truth is, Soriano’s words worked a kind of magic in me as I allowed his colors to sink in: and a butterfly net became a strainer. And this need to scream louder…took its break.

I hope you’ll read through the entire Muze Request, since in many ways our “dialogic exchange” sped through tracks locomotive—poet-to-poet, then friend-to-friend—because experimentation still has the power to challenge readers and writers, alike; and because somehow I knew, right toward the end, that our conversation had morphed into a  “Counterexample Interview,” the very embodiment of “Experimental Poetics,” as I flipped a Bruce Lee quote right-right back. And because “The power lines have floaters so the airplanes won’t get/snagged.” (“Driver 8,” R.E.M.)

And water has no needs.

"Distant Proclamation" © Felino A. Soriano

“Distant Proclamation” © Felino A. Soriano


Jamez: OK, let’s start hot. A poet I admire, Major Jackson, recently made the following statement in an interview with Editor Mary Gannon in Poets & Writers (Sept/Oct. 2010, “Exalted Utterance: A Profile of Major Jackson”): “Other kinds of things I see—overexperimentation. What I call overly inventive poems that are not making a reach toward the human; they are so much more about pastiche. And we’ve had now since modernism almost a hundred years of experimentation in poetry. I’m not sure we can do much more than what we’ve already done.”  Not to stir the pot or anything, but how would you respond to that statement?

Felino: Language can be damaging, fallacious. In what you quoted, I pronounce disagreement—a strong disagreement. I will absolutely not attempt to generalize or create a spectrum of understanding based on the art of others, and therefore will move along the path of subjectivity. Experimentation is a beautiful aspect of immanent context of what we are discussing, poetry. The notion of not reaching toward the human is a product of the personal reaction to the text. I would question this perspective of the reaction because (again, I’m using my work as example) if this were (and it has been) the reactive premise to my work, I would assume more clarity is required; this is a reciprocating responsibility.

Jamez: I like that, “reciprocating responsibility.” And I love this notion of the “reactive premise” to one’s work. As a poet, sometimes I’m struggling with seeking a clear glass jar for an impatient audience, but then as a reader, I get a different kind of pleasure when digging deeper, like I’m completing a jig-saw puzzle, and the last piece is ME.

"Bobbing for Taffy" © Mike Marshall

“Bobbing for Taffy” © Mike Marshall

Felino: If the poet desires the work to be understood, —explanation should be provided; too, if the reader is feeling underwhelmed, lost, or disconnected, but desires more understanding, the need is to delve into a more structural stance of investigation.

  •          The quotation [from Major Jackson] presents a predetermination of limitation
  •          …overly inventive poems is a positive affirmation of poetry
  •          …making a reach toward the human is an aspectual reality predicated on a query to the reader for investing time/effort into understanding the language

Jamez: That last part, about the reader investing time and effort understanding the language: can we really blame the reader for wanting her flash-fiction fix clear & contained, offered up in a mason jar? Experimental poetry seems to confound those expectations a bit. And your work as publisher/editor of Counterexample Poetics almost begs the question, Why only the jar?  

Can you elaborate on the curation philosophy of Counterexample?

Felino:  We aim to exhibit these interpretational, subjective proclamations proudly, thus inviting these artists to exist in a comfortable environment outside of the symptoms in which reality has often been offered for, and not with them, artistically.

We hope those perusing this journal’s contents will ascertain an aliveness within the works that has not yet been experienced, and if experienced, has been here, described in facets absent of cliché.

Poet Felino A. Soriano

© Felino A. Soriano

Jamez: Thanks, Felino. Now I’d like to delve into your own work some. This is me again with the butterfly net, so forgive me if the netaphor becomes a strainer. From your poem “║9║, in the “Of bass section:

reluctance paradigm such fear

this organizing predicament

anniversary emblem arching against

horizontal agitations

these aggregations of lone



bare as the solitary notion of

touch-touch embrace becomes as

skillful greeting, misapplied

          —from ║9║ poem, Of bass (published in Subliminal Interiors, July 2012)

Here’s what I got: Writing a poem presents a unique challenge—gotta condense an important moment and bend it into words and lines that fit nicely on a set path; and therein lies the “nervous jitters,” since about a dozen conflicting emotions occurred during that “important life moment,” and now I, the poet, am supposed to decorate a paper tree; and isn’t that process/result kind of unwieldy? Am I close, Felino?

Felino: I don’t see challenges within the context of creating a poem. My purpose or, nisus is to produce an unfamiliar language for what the familiar extends into our understanding. Many of my poems contain space and angular syntax; this openness is part of the poems’ morphology, much in the same formula for the jazz pianist, for example, in giving time to mediate or consider what the phrasing is attempting to communicate existing within the spatial subtleties. I like your point though, Jamez, of attempting to condense a moment in using that as a facilitating method to the poem’s language.  

Jamez: …or the poem is about jazz. Yeah, I meant to say jazz!

"jazz"  © Felino A. Soriano

“jazz” © Felino A. Soriano

Felino: The “║9║” poem from the “Of bass” section represents a smaller function to the entirety of the 20-poem aggregation of the bass’ segment. This section was part of my collection entitled Quartet Dialogues, —therefore, I must begin there: A momentum of movement within my poetry is because of my elation with varied connections to jazz music. I am fascinated by the dialogical occurrences within a jazz record.

Jamez: So less of a “think piece” but more of a conversation. Between poet and musician, was that the intent?

Felino: My intention with this collection was to create perspectives of a jazz quartet, and engage both wholly and individually, based on the quartet paradigm of bassist, drummer, pianist, and saxophonist. I endeavored to ascertain the emotional content—this elopement from the group dynamic and posit my interactive interpretation of the records’ message. For each section of the collection I focused on either wonderful solos or records that featured (here, bass) leaders pertaining to the sections’ meaning. 

Jamez: Maybe my initial interpretation wasn’t too far off after all. I mean, I’m still feeling this conflict within the poet, the one doing the interpreting/interacting. Is the touch-touch line saying that we should be reluctant about paradigms that leave little room for a stream-of-consciousness flow, or is it more about celebrating the absolute sensory experience of touch?

Felino:  The absolute sensory experience of touch. This, I like. And what the premise for me includes is to define that touch outside of the clarity of cliché’s verbal sameness.

"Beautiful though Death is Relevant"  © Felino A. Soriano

“Beautiful though Death is Relevant” © Felino A. Soriano

Jamez: I think I get it. The sensory inhalation and the attempt to express it must go on, like the show. But you’re saying, hey, poets, don’t go the easy route by using a cliché, even when it means a clear glass jar and clarity. ‘Cause that verbal samedness is dying-ness, alone.


Turning Point: A Poem is like a Student Late Slip dropped inside a Glass Jar

Turning Point: A Poem is like a Student Late Slip dropped inside a Glass Jar

Jamez: Holy shit, either I got royally served—a late-slip schooling—or you, sir, just flipped the most beautiful ode to silence I never heard!

Felino:  Silence is imperative.


"Eventual Silence"  © Felino A. Soriano

“Eventual Silence” © Felino A. Soriano


Jamez: Silence as the great inoculator. So I guess the inverse would be a complicit contaminator. What else besides a more truthful encounter does silence provide, for you in particular?

Felino:  Silence often offers exaltation. My natural disposition is one of introversion; since childhood I searched for an existence which gave appropriate boundaries to me in allowing space and distance to engage in introspection. This has followed me into adulthood.

Jamez: Can I borrow some of your introversion please? Between a full-time job, three boisterous daughters, and my beautiful wife—who incidentally wants me to communicate more—I could use The Silence of the Woodshed right about now!

Felino: I am fortunate to have a family that understands this need for me and therefore, I am able to interact with a sense of nothingness (if I believed in au courant tradition). Accurately, I find elation and such excitement in this time alone; I am able to interact with my outside-of-family-and-professional responsibilities: studying, writing poetry, listening to jazz music, daily.

Jamez: Your poem “Of the language silence speaks” just morphed into whistling sounds for me, I can’t explain, as if I were Daniel L.Everett deep in the Brazilian Amazon and human utterances blended into the forest like audio camouflage. A kind of jazz prosody:

hum of mussitation of masticated verbs

multilingual absences incur focal

habilitation’s sudden withdraw then lacking

compatibility of dialects’ converging

          —from “Of the language silence speaks” (published in Full of Crow, July 2012)

I felt like there were elements of both jazz and silence (two of your central themes) in this piece. Can you talk about how jazz influences your writing?

Felino: Jazz music alters my perception; thus, I write all my poems while listening. I recall when I wrote Of the language silence speaks I was listening to the album Lost in a Dream, led by drummer, Paul Motian. I wrote during interaction with the album’s first track, Mode VI. I heard a silence, saw a self-examination occurring which led the poem’s language, its pace, its images.

Many explain a functioning difficulty in interacting with silence; I find that vantage point foreign.

"Finding"  © Felino A. Soriano

“Finding” © Felino A. Soriano

Jamez: No difficulty here. Sometimes it takes silence for the forms and structures to flee. From sestinas to sonnets to lanterns to lipograms, those top-down organizing principles often steal away first instinct. I’m thinking of my kids when I say this, and the poetry on their faces, mouths open, when I raise my voice. There’s a recoil and drawing back—straight to their homework long division, things that they can control like meter in their minds (a kind of autism)—’cause it’s more painful to observe; patterns are much safer. Man, there’s gotta be an analogy there to academic poet-priests, right?!  Moving one step toward the seminary, moving two miles further from the parish.

Felino:  I’ve read poetry by young children that is amazing; this has functioned within me to query about the poet—regardless of age—is there a heightened ability to observe and facilitate a language of interrelated rhythms, based on observational data?

Jamez:  Yeah, I think so. For a young child it’s perpetual wonder and curiosity about one’s surroundings, and they probably do hear things in a heightened way, but since it’s so tied to raw emotion—boom, they’re hijacked. There isn’t that presence of mind to calmly observe Mommy screaming then quickly write a poem about Daddy’s raised voice. For adult poets, we lose our “field hands” when relying on universal grammar or tautology or poetic forms to soak in truth. Trench fieldwork, Felino. And you got that, soaked in. What I really respect about your bio is how you don’t shy away from that fieldwork, your hands-on experience working with adults with learning disabilities; directing independent and supported living programs. How has your work influenced your poetry?

"Contoured Revelation"  © Felino A. Soriano

“Contoured Revelation” © Felino A. Soriano

Felino: I cannot adequately express the importance my work has on my life—it has indeed assisted in creating a more aware disposition in regards to analyzing how I construct interaction with others; this translates/transfers/transcends into my poetry, appealing to how language and being interrelate. Our work is proclaimed on communication: enlisting the faculty of observation (and italicizing its nature). My work has created added appositional qualities that engage.

Jamez: This is one of the few times I’m going to ask: can you be more specific?

Felino: My 3rd published poem was entitled Autism; through my learning about Autism, my curiosity conduced into an eventual parallel of connecting poetry-to/with/-work. Much of my influence, specifically on aspectual guidelines of understanding silence—is connoted on wanting and needing to understand the folks that we support that do not use verbal communication. Human services are plethoric with labels of people that ultimately strip the reflectional clarity of humanity, exchanging for the fogged misconceptions of these labels’ inaccuracies.

Jamez: Top-down labels again. Not so good for poetics, not so good for people. What’s the cliché I’m looking for?…When you assume you make an ass out of u and me?

Felino: Assumptions are the predetermined fallacies of uncritical thinking.

Jamez: Word.

Any “fieldwork” that translates into practical advice for our readers? Those aspiring writers and poets?

Felino: “Fieldwork” in the context of my writing has become an altered functionality of furthering understanding my influences and environment. Very early in my writing I received some advice about never using clichés in poems; 13 years later, I am still adhering to that recommendation with the added layer of attempting to create dissimilar poetic language.

Jamez: So, Felino, in my netbook you’re Driver 8. Care to offer up your Driver 9?

Felino: A major and imperative influence for me was finding the poetry of Duane Locke. I’ve told the story many times about perusing a bookstore in 2004 and happening across an interesting, colorful cover of the international journal, The Bitter Oleander. This issue was dedicated to Duane’s work and in-depth philosophy on many subjects. I read, re-read, re-re-read. He was positing some fantastic perspectives on the nature of poetry, which led me to look up more of his work. Circa two years later, I saw some of his work in an online journal, which also listed his email address. I sent him a note, and we formed a friendship, and I happily call him also, mentor/teacher.

"Focus on Imagination's Various Certainties"  © Felino A. Soriano

“Focus on Imagination’s Various Certainties” © Felino A. Soriano

Jamez: I was joking with some friends the other day, that the Kirk Gibson homerun in 1988 was probably the #1 moment in my life. I was certain. I later had to explain that certainty to my wife.

my wife

I guess I should’ve called it Top Ten Further Uncoverings. Which leads me to you, Felino. What are your Various Certainties?

Felino:   2010—Marrying my wife

Jamez:  Good answer.

Felino:  2010—I began interaction with collaborators/friends/mentors Heller Levinson and Linda Lynch.  2012—The birth of my daughter. Because truly, my daughter’s birth parallels marrying my wife.

Jamez: There are no “tear-drop” emoticons in heaven.

Interesting, Felino, that collaboration comes into focus. What does collaboration with other editors, writers, artists do for you?

Felino:  I’ll start, intuitively, in the present. With each of my publications, I am honored to have connected with an editor to the point they enjoy my work enough to publish. The very kind La Alameda Press (based out of Albuquerque, New Mexico) recently published my collaborative collection with Heller and Linda called Hinge TrioThe process to reach fruition was so very enjoyable, as Heller and Linda are dear to me. We treated this togetherness in the aspectual pattern of a jazz trio, and used Heller’s and my text as accompaniment to Linda’s extraordinary drawings; we also riffed off each other based on Heller’s Hinge Theory.

Hinge Trio by Heller Levinson, Linda Lynch, Felino A. Soriano; Published by La Alameda Press

Jamez: I feel like it’s almost a pre-requisite to stamp out the corners of your ego and see the beauty in your peers’ work first. At least if you intend to succeed in this field. Feel good about the brilliance around you—that much more light. So I guess I’m asking both why and why not collaborate?

Felino: The function in this for me stemmed from my admiration for and devotion to, their art (I’m a fan); I suppose, this is the truncated reason as to the why foundation of your question. Art needn’t be an individualized component of self’s expressive desire. The togetherness emblem drove the process for me, and I wanted to engage with their work, not only on the level of artistic motive, but also within the spectrum of personal believability in their brilliance.

Jamez: And even beyond taking a progressive stance, that of building a sense of community among writers and poets, I honestly believe collaboration builds diverse and dynamic skill sets, accelerating the learning process. Your thoughts?

Felino: So much opportunity exists within our ability to engage in observation; collaboration instills motivation as a diligently planted seed; we can continue and should. And when working with others, the hand of aspiration can assist us in continuing within the focus of what is needed to create. This announcement of humanity is a spectral direction, one we can use to assist our own yens to dialogue outside our notebooks/computers/instruments/abilities.

"Neighboring Dimensions"  © Felino A. Soriano

“Neighboring Dimensions” © Felino A. Soriano

Jamez: So we’re winding down this Muze Request, and I ended the Isaac Kirkman interview by riffing on a Cornel West reference. Can you leave us with a quick diddy or quote?

Felino: “I consider myself a jazz man in the world of ideas, a blues man in the life of the mind / Because my models are jazz musicians and blues men who have to find their voices and not just be echoes.”

Cornel West

“Be water, my friend”

Bruce Lee

Jamez: My friend, water be.

Publication Notes: The author wishes to stop sleeping on the couch at night, so he has decided to drop the Kirk Gibson homerun down to # 4, replacing the Top Three Moments in His Life with this: 1) the day I met her; 2) the day I told her, “I love you”; and 3) the night she proposed.



Felino A. Soriano has authored nearly five dozen collections of poetry, including Extolment in the praising exhalation of jazz (Kind of a Hurricane Press, 2013), the collaborative volume with poet, Heller Levinson and visual artist, Linda Lynch, Hinge Trio (La Alameda Press, 2012) and rhythm:s (Fowlpox Press, 2012).  He publishes the online endeavors Counterexample Poetics and Differentia Press. [Editor’s Note: Differentia Press is an online publishing house dedicated to publishing ebooks of experimental poetry.] His work finds foundation in philosophical studies and connection to various idioms of jazz music. He lives in California with his wife and family and is the director of supported living and independent living programs providing supports to adults with developmental disabilities. For further information, please visit

* This post was authored by Jamez Chang  

"Z-Bonics" - Jamez - © 1998 F.O.B. Productions

  1. vivipix permalink

    That’s some complex smart work going on here. Thanks to both of you, especially for the generous words on collaboration at home and on the page.

  2. What I enjoyed most is that this works as a great introduction template to the often mysterious dimension of experimental poetry.The candid candor of you two, with the images, brought clarity to a field of verse often misunderstood. The great beauty of song, of jazz, on the hidden physics of language. Well done!

  3. Jon K permalink

    This is a wholly engaging transcript. As I neared the middle I knew it was something I’d want (and need) to re-read. As I finished the last line I felt a sudden loss for not having been in the room/on the computer to witness the dialogue unfold in real time.

    So many things to mull: silence, negative space’s role as positive space, collaboration, the process and the processing of the process. But more than all of that, I’m left with this warm feeling of the thoroughness of Felino’s creative mind. The complex blending of thought, sight, sound, silence, visual aesthetic, and overall harmony between all of those things…

    …And as I write this line I find myself typing and bobbing my head in line with the beat of “Here comes the meter man,” and I realize just how true, and simple, and real Felino’s approach is.

  4. Jazz gets harder to find these days, in clubs and on the page. Felino Soriano is one of the people who keeps the tradition alive. There is a music to his words that is worth the listen. Blow that horn, Gabriel.

  5. Wisdom and experimentation – a wonderful combination. Congrats to both for an engaging interview.

  6. Robin Morrison permalink

    A compelling and activating conversation. So pleased to read it.

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