Update: Robert Chrysler is no longer with us, but we want to continue to share this interview that contains his own words. He is missed by many.
Robert Chrysler is an inspired subway-ranter from Toronto, Canada. He enjoys challenging capitalist property relations, trying to figure out what the post-structuralists are going on about, and dreams of someday living in a tree.
LA: What’s constant? In other words, is there anything that seems consistent for you right now?
RC: Unfortunately, the only constant in my life is my continued marginalization, living on the fringes of society. I used to think that I could still at some point work hard and fight my way back towards some degree of normalcy or the everyday domestication that most people experience. I don’t any longer. I am too old to spend my time at menial, backbreaking labour that leaves me with no time or energy to pursue the things that really mean anything to me and never get me ahead anyway. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll probably be destitute and homeless, living in shelters and whatnot, for the rest of my days. I plan on making the best of it, however.
LA: When I think about what I know of you, your life, the difficulties, the ugly side of living- I am often struck by the way truly beautiful sections of text seem to weave right through descriptions that are otherwise, very much “street” in their tone and anxieties. An example comes to mind, a piece I love from Counterexample Poetics, called “At The Beginning Again”:
Striation paradox, minutes stretched across the sky’s ceiling, then falling onto the city below. Motion becomes labyrinthine and beautiful, too beautiful to even approach our understanding.
All cartographies seem to freeze, new faces lost hopelessly in laughter and play, the dazzling hues of pink leaping from the concrete before returning to their song.
I get the sense that inside your head is a completely different world in contrast to your circumstances, that while you remain rooted in your struggles, in the moment, that you are engaged with these escapes.
Where are these places, do they reflect anything about your frustrations?
RC: The fact that I write the way I do , in a sometimes lyrical, imaginative, surreal fashion, is a pretty conscious choice on my part.
Some people have encouraged me to write about my personal experiences living in poverty and dealing with alcoholism and drug addiction in a more “honest way”, that is either to take a more journalistic approach, or to use my actual experiences as a base or springboard for straight-ahead linear fictions.
But honestly, I find all that pretty uninteresting and maybe even banal. It may be because I’ve actually lived through these things, but I personally find the vast majority of “working-class” life to be utterly and completely boring. People from other social classes may have their ideas about how it is, they may still have a tendency to romanticize it, I don’t know. The fact of the matter is, though, that whether it’s standing in line for an hour at a soup-kitchen waiting for supper, sitting in a holding-cell for 7 hours waiting to go before a judge, or trying to nurse a coffee in a doughnut shop for 4 hours waiting for a dealer, a good deal of proletarian life involves waiting around doing nothing much at all.
So yeah, escapism has always been important for me. A a kid growing up in Regent Park (Canada’s oldest housing projects), the fantastic visionary worlds I could access via my beloved public library offered obvious relief from the harshness of my surroundings. And even now that Iam involved in writing as well as reading, I can’t deny that some of my best stuff was written when I was the most down and out. I think taking refuge in my own imaginary realms and writing has actually contributed to keeping me somewhat sane and reminded me that Iam a part of something bigger than myself.
LA: What are you working on? Where is your energy going?
RC: I’m always working on longer pieces of text. As many know, Iam a huge fan of William Bokelund’s “Art Set Free” self-publishing project (link), and, to be honest, I would like to bite his style a bit and have my own constantly updated surrealist writing project that I could share with people via a PDF file they could access online. But I always wind up giving up on longer projects, just taking the longer pieces and re-editing them into shorter prose poems. So I will probably just continue to self-publish relatively short PDF file chapbooks of my surreal prose-poetry.
Don’t completely count out the possibility of a never-ending surrealist novel appearing somewhere online before too long, though. I’m unpredictable.
LA:What do you have against the sick government labia?
RC: Given the current social and political climate of corporate labiacratic neo-fascism, it probably wouldn’t be wise to answer that question. Sorry.
LA: If poetry is generated, created by a non human process, is it still poetry?
RC: Yes. Poetry can be many things. Why would we want to limit our creativity and our possibilities with definitions that are too iron-clad concerning what it is and isn’t? Not that I care very much if someone argues that machinic poetry isn’t poetry. I occasionally utilize automatic techniques in conjunction with an internet-based cut-up machine. If I didn’t go around telling people I did that, however, it isn’t likely they would know. But Iam quite willing to concede that I may not be a poet. Somehow I continue doing what I do and enjoying it.