David Auerbach: You clearly took joy in writing your version of Keats. Is The Warm South fan fiction of a sort?
Paul Kerschen: No doubt! There must also be a touch of Frankenstein in my resurrecting him for my own purposes. I gained and lost a great deal over the course of writing, but whatever the endpoint, it did at least start from a felt intimacy with Keats’s own words, and perhaps in that respect it isn’t too much worse a distortion than other kinds of reading.
A feature by Elodie Olson-Coons
I first wrote to Claude Ber when I became acquainted with her startling, fragmentary meditation on grief, La mort n’est jamais comme (Death Is Never Like), which won the Prix international de poésie francophone Yvan-Goll in 2004. The book already had an English translator, she wrote back, but perhaps I’d be interested in her latest work? A thin cream paperback from Éditions de l’Amandier came in the mail shortly afterwards, signed. . .
If you want to meet up with Peter Bichsel, you need to have plenty of time on your hands, and you mustn’t expect the interview to go like most interviews. Our meeting begins in the pub, the Kreuz in Bichsel’s hometown of Solothurn, though it hasn’t been “his” pub for a long time, and it ends with yet another glass of wine on the banks of the Aare River in the springtime sun. In between, there’s a long conversation in his study. But the work itself is over: Bichsel is eighty-two and has stopped writing. Over the last fifty years, however, he has published dozens of volumes of stories and over a thousand columns. His work lives on, continually re-published, read, and loved by new generations of readers—just like its author. I’ve yet to hear anyone ever speak badly of Bichsel. Age has perhaps slowed his tempo—though he was always fond of long pauses in which to formulate his thoughts—but the thoughts themselves are as sharp as they ever were. . .
A feature by Cynthia Haven
And so you were the chosen scapegoat for that society for a while.
I didn’t feel like a scapegoat. There are many anonymous civilians who were scapegoats and nobody will ever hear about them or have a chance to remember them: many people were killed, chased out, mobbed, robbed, humiliated, fired, many people left, many emigrated. All because of local neo-fascist strategies. The biggest victims in Croatia were ordinary people of Serbian ethnicity. In Bosnia, the biggest victims were Muslims. And so on and so forth. Those who were responsible for this “silent persecutions” were never brought to the justice. And they will never be. Because justice in Yugo-zone obediently serves the people in power. . .
A feature by John Vincler
Danielle Dutton: I first came across the photographs when a copy of Hardly More than Ever arrived at the office of The Denver Quarterly, where I was, at that time, associate editor. This must have been around 2005. I was opening the mail. I suppose it was a review copy (which seems incredibly generous, since it’s this large, gorgeous hardback), but I’m sorry to say that it never got reviewed because I stole it. Just tucked it into my bag and got on the bus. Anyway, I was already, at that time, writing the initial fragments that I’d eventually stitch together to form the weirdly quilted fabric of SPRAWL, but it was very early days, and the photographs entered the space of my writing almost immediately after I got the book home. . .
Right, the community—again, we’re talking about people and music. They’re inseparable. So I was living in Boston, meeting those people, and it was 1998. The World Cup comes. It was always interesting to see how people prepared the party before the game—the kind of vibe, the hats, the warmth, together, and passion. There’s always passion in everything. Passion in drinking, passion in arguing, passion in playing, passion in being together. Really, there’s something so wonderful about it. It was really refreshing to me, the way people were celebrating life. And everyone was showing up to support the gigs, and dancing, and singing the songs. It was so new to me. Even now, you think about jazz in the United States, and you think about Israel… People sing old songs in Israel if they come to one of those evenings where everyone sits together and sings, but if you go to a party or a bar to listen to old music—unless they really love it, it’s not the same. It’s really mind-boggling. It’s really a beautiful thing.
A feature by Rodrigo Hasbún
MC: Yes, I write just one or two pages a day, only in the mornings, and I never add or take out anything, but what is important is that I never have a plan or a story in mind. Each page is revealed to me at the moment I start to write. Each page could (and does) change everything. It is the only way that I can write, for writing is not a job for me, nor an art, but a faith, a sort of a personal religion. To go on writing I don’t need to know where I’m heading, but only that I can do it, that I’m the only one who can. . .
A feature by Michael Kelleher
Chus Pato is one of the most significant poets writing in Galician today. Thanks to the efforts of her translator, Canadian poet Erín Moure, five volumes of her work have been translated into English, the two most recent being Secession/Insecession (BookThug, 2014) and Flesh of Leviathan (Omindawn, 2016).
It was almost by chance that I encountered her work. I met Erín in the fall of 2017, and she handed me three of the books she’d translated. It took all of one line from the first poem in m-Talá (Shearsman/Buschekbooks, 2009) to make me realize I was in the presence of a major poet and thinker:
i ask myself if in this phrase all the yews of the free city of Paris lean and fall, all my reflections on language—the word that shuts the edifice of Language is the same that opens to the wind’s dominion—
Pelin Başcı: Your novel is part of an increasing number of works inviting audiences to take a broader view of the events of 1980. Such a literary assessment has been slow to take place, especially when we consider that, during the 1970s, literature was far more responsive to political trauma. Fiction about 1980 has been slow to emerge.
Ece Temelkuran: One of the reasons for this “slowness,” so to speak, is that the 1980 coup, with all its social, political, and psychological consequences, is still going on. When a historical incident is not totally over, it becomes almost impossible to talk about it through the serene lens of literature…
A feature by Whitney Curry Wimbish
Oh: What I really love about playing this music is this sense of resourcefulness. You have to be ready for what’s going to come to you, and that flexibility transfers into other parts of your life. The skills you learn when you’re first studying music serve you in different ways. Resourcefulness, compromise—those are useful tools for good human beings…
A feature by Spencer Matheson
One of today’s leading pianists, Dan Tepfer has played with some of the great names in jazz: Mark Turner, Billy Hart, Ralph Towner, Joe Lovano, Bob Brookmeyer, and Paul Motian. His most recent recordings include Decade (July 2018), his second album with Lee Konitz, and Eleven Cages (June 2017), with the Dan Tepfer Trio. His current project, Acoustic Informatics, uses a concert piano that can be controlled by a computer, for which he has written programs that respond in real time to his improvisations. This is an edited version of an interview conducted in Paris in October 2017.
A feature by Madeleine LaRue
A Lesser Day is partly a reconstruction of memory—the narrator is attempting to order her sense of self via five different addresses she’s lived at during a particular period of her life—but it’s also something like a metaphysics of space. Where did this premise, or this structure, come from?
Actually, I had been working on a different book for several years, a novel that’s still unfinished. And in between all of this, I had my son. The hospital I gave birth in had a tiny library, where I happened upon a book by Marie Luise Kaschnitz titled Orte—“Locations” or “Places” in English. I stole it, brought it home, and read it in a state of wonder. It certainly provided one of the impulses for my book, although I didn’t know it at the time. Kaschnitz begins some of the sections of Orte with specific locations, as I do in A Lesser Day, and goes on to search her memory for everything she can remember that’s attached to a particular place in the past—in her case, very far in the past. She was writing about her childhood in the first years of the twentieth century, from a perspective of some seventy years later, near the end of her life.
Ellen Hinsey: In the spring of 1972, you were allowed to publish a single volume—your only officially sanctioned book of poetry in Soviet Lithuania, The Sign of Speech—
Tomas Venclova: During this period, the censorship situation had somewhat improved. After 1968, the prevailing atmosphere was one of a “freeze,” but there were some unexpected fluctuations in the party line, which were duly reflected in the editorial policy of the Lithuanian state publishing house. For a time, experimental verse was permitted (or benevolently overlooked), especially if it possessed a “life-affirming,” that is, optimistic, quality or had a folkloric aspect. Usually, a “locomotive” was required: The very first poem in a book by a first-time author had to mention Lenin or Fidel Castro (or, preferably, both) with due enthusiasm. Everyone consented to this demand, which was unspoken, or only discussed in private between an editor and an author. For me, it was out of the question. After my experience with my science book, I scorned the system and had enough respect for poetry to reject these “rules of the game.” Incidentally, Brodsky faced a similar dilemma. After his exile, a book of his poems was being prepared in the USSR, but Yevtushenko told him it needed a “locomotive”—a piece about Lenin or, at, least, about the great Russian people. Brodsky had a poem on people and their language, and quite a good one (Akhmatova admired it), which could perhaps have been construed as “patriotic” and therefore adhering to the official line. [My friend, the physicist] Romas Katilius persuaded him this would have been a gesture of capitulation. Brodsky refused to include it in the book; it was subsequently rejected by the publisher. To my astonishment, The Sign of Speech appeared without any mandatory “locomotive” or “lightning rod”—perhaps the first such case in Soviet Lithuania, or possibly in the entire Soviet Union.
A feature by Madeleine LaRue
I was thinking about a lot as I was reading about how, in the translation workshop, every week we would have a theme, translation as X—translation as copying, translation as refraction, translation as dépaysement—and we would work with this theme and write about it. So as I was going through your book, I was thinking, “What is this translation as?” The first one is translation as affirmation: I accept the terms under which this writing has come to me, but I also accept that I can read it and participate in it, I accept that this is a proper text and not an inferior copy.
Yes, I think that’s what the opening section is all about—as I say repeatedly, I don’t read German, and yet here is this book, which I receive as The Magic Mountain, which has become very important to me. Perhaps it is worth making clear that all the materials that I draw on, all the books that I think with in This Little Art, whether it’s The Magic Mountain or Robinson Crusoe, are the books that Barthes was also thinking with [in The Preparation of the Novel and How to Live Together]. In other words, those are the books I was reading in order to translate Barthes’s lecture notes, and so they were the ones I was also thinking with as I was thinking about the translations. But beyond that requirement to read it, The Magic Mountain was also just this extraordinary reading experience. I mean, it’s an amazing novel. Unlike Barthes, who read it in Maurice Betz’s French translation, I received it in Helen Lowe-Porter’s English, in the form of the book-object that she made. The question I wanted to open the book with was: How to make the fact of this appear? How to make translation appear when, as we all know, it is so easy to lose sight of, so easy to forget and pass over? You know that famous line from Viktor Shklovsky? Something like “art exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony”—art exists to make things unfamiliar, to de-familiarize them even if ever so slightly, so they have a chance of being registered, kind of received in all of their strange particularity. How do you make the stone stony? I was thinking about that a lot: How do I make translation thick—
Alyson Waters: But then where does the first sentence come from, if it doesn’t come from your imagination? I’m thinking, in particular, of some first sentences from your novels that are too long to be quoted in full but which are utterly delightful: “Boborokine was not a big man, though not preposterously small, he must have stood, amounted to, or measured a head shorter than me, judging from his uniform…” (Prehistoric Times) or “The thickest clouds are gray, the tallest, mightiest cities are gray, the elephant, the hippopotamus, all the pachyderms are gray; they can be seen from a much greater distance than the garish hummingbird or butterfly, and yet the prejudice persists that gray is the more minimal manifestation of visibility . . .” (On the Ceiling); or a far shorter sentence, the one that opens Dino Egger: “Finally, I’ve got one, and now we’re going to find out.”
Éric Chevillard: The beginning is always a feat of willpower. I’ve often had to deliberately set down—like an absurd premise, an indefensible principle—a first sentence so bizarre that it opened up a wholly unexplored space. At least then I could be sure I was the first to land on this shore, to tread on this snowy stretch. I remember very clearly the moment when I started my novel On the Hedgehog by writing these words: “It seems exactly like a naive and globular hedgehog, this animal, there, on my desk.” It was practically automatic writing. I didn’t yet have any specific aim. But the impetus was there. I will maintain that any other formulation could have served my purpose just as well. It’s a matter of surprising myself in order not to repeat those worn-out phrases that have not only been put to use already in literature, but also come to dictate our very existence. I believe that art in general and literature in particular offer us the chance to broaden the range of our awareness as well as our areas of experience, to leap from a moving train of thought as if to free ourselves from the specific conditions imposed upon us. So the first words count quite a bit; here the words really do give the orders. If a writer isn’t careful he will innocently formulate the words that already dictate the world, whereupon everything will start over as it always has and, as Beckett puts it at the beginning of Murphy, the sun will shine “on the nothing new.” A mysterious or extravagant first sentence must, on the contrary, be justified. A different world order must be invented in which it makes sense.
A feature by Daniel Medin
Daniel Medin: I can’t help but try to situate Le Silence des Sirènes in relation to previous works of yours, and one obvious connection seems to be to the concertos. Yet writing for a human voice has to be different from writing for piano or violin or any of the instruments featured in a traditional concerto; what sort of concerns does it raise for you?
Unsuk Chin: The human voice is always something different, as you say. Naturally, differences exist between instruments; for example, when a string instrument plays a long note, it expresses certain emotions which couldn’t be expressed in the same way if the note were played by the piano. But there is a stark difference between these instruments and the voice, because you can’t use the voice without implying a particular set of underlying affects. I can’t sing at all myself, but I have a great affinity for the human voice, and I’ve written lots of vocal music. The reason, perhaps, is that I come from Korea—Koreans like to sing, and when I compose for other instruments, even when the music is multi-layered and abstract, I try to sing it with my “inner voice.”
A feature by Maria Dimitrova
What was the translation process like?
I wanted translation, or the impossibility of translation, to be an intrinsic part of the text. Because of that, its starting point was the untranslatability of the Bulgarian тъга (“taga”: sorrow, melancholy), the concept as well as the word itself. The text is made of various personal notes which take their structure from the notebooks I travel around with. I always have one with me, I am now probably on volume 67 or so.
Do you have it with you currently?
Yes, I always have the latest one. Though I travel a lot and carry at least the last fifteen with me.
Do you ever write on a computer?
Yes, but it all starts from the notebooks: the ideas, the phrases. I develop these further on a computer of course, and I do write prose on it, but poetry I can only write on paper. I am an analog poet. Poetry on a computer is a different genre altogether...
Feature by Mary Mann
The strange flip side of making art from oppression is that it means being dependent on difficulty in order to create. Some artists have made work about this very problem—Cooper gave me the example of a Raymond Carver poem called “Your Dog Dies,” about finding out that the family dog has died and immediately thinking: how can I use this grief in my work? “There’s something mercenary about it,” concluded Cooper, “but it also does something that I think is miraculous: if you can take the unbearable or difficult or deeply unfair, those things in life that cause great suffering, and stand back and figure out how to redirect them into a work of art that will allow other people to understand, that’s a redeeming quality.”
A feature by Michael Barron
In early 2013, when the writer and scholar Anna Della Subin began work on her book-length essay, now published by Triple Canopy as Not Dead But Sleeping, it was said that Egypt was again awakening. It had been roused by the uprisings of the Arab Spring, which Subin witnessed firsthand in her role as editor for the Middle Eastern culture magazine Bidoun. So went the rallying cry: “The revolution is in Tahrir, no sleeping in bed.” These words appeared as graffiti on a tank, referring to what had become the world’s largest sit-in. In America we are now living in the “woke” era, a term used to describe being aware of social injustice and racism at every waking moment. Or as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution.” Subin begs to disagree.
In a text that moves between treatise and prose poem, Subin uses al-Hakim’s play as a launching pad into a dark galaxy of medieval martyrs and sci-fi saints, messianic sleeper cells and the insomniacs of our late capitalist age, to argue that sleep can have a revolutionary mandate of its own. “The sleeper is the ultimate social critic,” she writes. “Sleepers are assessors of our awakenings. And sleep cannot be censored.” We spoke this summer about Egyptian literature, protests against time, and whether a story can fail . . .
Matt Mendez: Writing about music doesn’t strike me as the sort of vocation one plans to pursue, in and of itself. The most common scenario seems to be falling into it by accident, and discovering along the way that one actually has an affinity for this odd, difficult, arcane art of using words to describe sounds. How did you first begin?
Paul Griffiths: I distrust autobiography, but here’s an anecdote. As a student, I was a member of the Oxford University Contemporary Music Society, which put on concerts with some very fine performers. I still remember the first time I heard the Berg Piano Sonata (1908) (which was then as new as Boulez’s Le Marteau sans maître is now), played by Julian Jacobson. At another of the Society’s concerts, it turned out that I was the only person in the audience who didn’t have a piece on the program, so I had to write the review for the student newspaper. That was the start.