Art Of Navigation

Written by Dr. Ellen Arl for PBS TV interview on Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

Ex Libris: the interview program about books.
Public Broadcasting Service television, WRJA-ETV, Sumter, South Carolina, April 1999. An abridged reconstruction of the televised interview in which Dr. Ellen Arl speaks with the poet Andrew Jefferson-Miles. 

Arl: Welcome to Ex Libris, the interview program about books. My guest tonight is the poet Andrew Jefferson-Miles, author of the book Art of Navigation. Andrew, welcome.

Jefferson-Miles: Thank you, Ellen. It is a pleasure to be here.

Arl: So far, I have read Art of Navigation thirteen times. There is so much here that you must have spent half your life writing this book. Thanks to your very helpful notes the experience of reading made more sense each time and gradually I began to read quicker with more understanding and with a feeling of something magical. The poem starts with the science of Fifteenth century European navigators. It is about a time when time was important because it was so difficult to keep time. How does that bear on modern notions of time today?

Jefferson-Miles: We live time in cross-civilizationry perspectives. I see this in all sorts of ways; not just in physics, or in the address of high culture, but in the popular arts. Driving through the southern states this week and listening to the car radio, I am struck by how the popular arts include a relentless attempt to interrogate time. Children’s nursery rhymes often generate the rhythms and meter of a song-dance form such as hip-hop, as if the structures of childhood speech encoded a special relationship to time, as if those structures held a key to understanding something important about the nature of time. 

Arl: The instruments of navigation; first of all, the use of the eye to decipher the night sky, then the help of a backstaff for measuring the angle of the sun against landfall; do you see a relation between increased specialization and a warrant served on the sacredness of the imagination?

Jefferson-Miles: It is hard to study or read about important breakthroughs in technology without experiencing emotions of inner applause and wonder. That fertility and resourcefulness of the mind also makes it possible to continue writing important poetry. Discovery makes a cleft space in which a language for poetry can recover itself. 

Arl: You make all sorts of rich associations between astrophysics, philosophy, quantum mechanics, history and the psyche. What other territories do you see your poetry exploring in the time to come? 

Jefferson-Miles: These threads are slow to show themselves - perhaps one is in the habit of looking too quickly. They gestate as if spinning a cocoon before a gradual unveiling. I am becoming aware of tantalizing currents between the cradle of Europe and the cradle of the Americas, particularly with Central and South America. I am not thinking of the now well-know antiphonies between, say, the Aztec and the Columbization of the Americas, nor do I refer to the haunting reappearance of mythological figures from Sumer-Akkadian then Hellenic antiquity with counterparts in old Peru, Polynesia, and Micronesia; nor do I have in mind the motifs shared by places and civilizations unrelated to one another. Rather I have become sensitized to intercalations between events which appear historically closed and specific to a civilization but which, on incubation, nurture an almost alien organum which has flourished far away across the globe. I see lives carved in a 1487 coronation stone in old Mexico City meet and adjust lives in another place and timing. I see a river of the arts which a comet enters.

Arl: I can only compare the pleasure of reading Art of Navigation to the pleasure I had when I was at college and started to read Joyce’s Ulysses. It was a wide open adventure. Andrew, I would be remiss if I did not ask you to read. 

Jefferson-Miles reads from Art of Navigation.

Arl: I shall always carry the memory of your voice when I read Art of Navigation. Andrew, thank you so much for sharing your poetry, and thank you for appearing on Ex Libris.

WRJA-ETV, Sumter, South Carolina, April 1999.