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. . .
The two boys crossing the bridge in front of me are obviously brothers, one of them perhaps ten years old, the other twenty. The small one, very agitated, is talking on and on to the other, and the older one is answering in a deliberate, fatherly way, explaining things. They are speaking Spanish; I don’t understand a word, but their intonation makes them brothers, and their intonation lets you recognize questions and answers. And suddenly they are speaking Swiss German, completely without accents. They switch languages without noticing it themselves at all, and now that they’re speaking Swiss German, they suddenly no longer look like Spaniards. It’s a lovely conversation between the knowledgeable older brother and the questioning younger one. I would have liked to continue listening, but then they speak Spanish again. . .
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. . .
A feature by Jáchym Topol
For me, Eastern Europe is a continent of ruins, a relic of a fallen empire.
I can feel the tension here. I love the dilapidated factories on the city peripheries, the roads to them washed away by rain, the bizarre objects along the way like in Tarkovsky’s Stalker, the overgrown country paths leading nowhere, the monuments to those dead so long nobody even bothers to respect or hate them anymore. . .
A feature by Tyler Goldman and Christine Wunnicke
In the conversation that follows, I join the German novelist and translator Christine Wunnicke in the gutter to discuss the challenges and pleasures of translating these two remarkable and scandalizing poets into our native languages—Martial’s Latin into my English, Rochester’s English into Wunnicke’s German. The conversation took place over email and has been edited slightly for concision and clarity.
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 taste of that task had been presented the evening before, at the Budapest Music Center, which was responsible for the whole series of concerts, and which has given the Kurtágs a home in the city. Fin de partie, it was revealed, is to begin, before getting to the play text, with a setting of an English poem by Beckett, “Roundelay,” performed by the singer who will then take on the role of Nell. . .
A feature by David H. Pickering
I met Stravinsky, I think it was, in the fall of 1915, which is to say just after the grape harvest had ended in the tiny hamlet of Treytorrens where I’d been living. Situated on the lake between Cully and Rivaz, Treytorrens consists of three or four grand white houses belonging to the landowners; while, just next door, there are three or four other colorless dwellings where the winemakers reside. I was in one of the landowners’ homes, the largest one and nearest to the water; it was here that Ansermet, then the conductor of the Kursaal Orchestra, escorted Stravinsky on a visit from Montreux. In the scarcely fifteen-kilometer ride from Montreux to Treytorrens, the train never once abandons the lakeshore, edging the water so closely in places that the tracks pass over a dyke in front of my house. The railroad is still there, but—I record this for the sake of the very young and to mark the passage of time—the locomotives still ran on steam back then. . .
A feature by Whitney Curry Wimbish
Flautist and composer David Bertrand plays the flute like an invitation: come hear this instrument for what it is, not for what you might believe it to be. It’s a welcoming approach that not only demonstrates something of the flute’s innate fine character and ability to blend with all other instruments, but it also rejects the idea that the instrument may only be played by certain people.
“I was told in no uncertain terms: ‘The flute makes no sense. You should play something else. You should be a saxophonist. If you play this much flute, you should have no trouble with sax. The flute is a white people thing. It has nothing to do with jazz,’” Bertrand recently told me. “But in Trinidad, we talk about oppression as a fight dog. Either you bow down and acquiesce, or you fight back. I’m playing the flute to fight.”
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—
Chus Pato é unha dos poetas máis significativos escribindo en galego hoxe. Grazas aos esforzos da súa tradutora, a poeta canadense Erín Moure, cinco volumes da súa obra foron traducidos ao inglés, os dous máis recentes sendo Secession / Insecession (BookThug, 2014) e Flesh of Leviathan (Omnidawn, 2016).
Foi case por casualidade que encontrei a súa poesía. Coñecín a Erín no outono de 2017 e ela entregoume tres dos libros que traduciu. Cando lin o verso inicial do primeiro poema en m-Talá(Shearsman / Buschekbooks, 2009) entendía inmediatamente que estaba na presenza dunha gran poeta e pensadora:
pregúntome se nesta frase caben todos os teixos da cidade libre de París, todas as miñas reflexións acerca da linguaxe —a palabra que pecha o edificio lingüístico é a mesma que se abre ao dominio do vento—
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 Clemens J. Setz
Several years ago, I had an appointment with a neurologist. There an EEG was performed. With a hairnet of electrodes on your head, you sit in front of a strong lamp, keep your eyes closed, and are subjected to flashes. The reaction of your brain to the flashing light, which flickers at an increasing frequency, is recorded by software. I don’t remember at how many hertz it was that I suddenly saw a spiral of falling gingerbread men. I told this to the assistant who was conducting the test. “I think I see gingerbread men.” To which she replied: “We’ll try one level higher, then it’s enough.” With the light now flashing marginally more rapidly, I still saw the incredible image behind my closed eyelids: falling gingerbread men, millions of them, a whole cosmos full. I had to open my eyes, because the sight was making me dizzy.
A feature by Sydney Boyd
To achieve this kind of intermedia voyage, it matters where you sit during Tutschku’s concerts. When I first walked into the theater and sat in the front row, Tutschku quietly approached and encouraged me toward the center of the room, gesturing at the circular positioning of the speakers. His advice quickly made sense: his music is remarkably attuned to its environments. It moves with space and bodies in mind, as his 2011 work Klaviersammlung, which opened this first program, succinctly demonstrated. Comprising recordings Tutschku made of ancient pianos that whir around an audience through sixteen channels placed throughout the theater, the piece transports you inside the body of an old instrument where you feel the hammers press and the strings pull, and the grain of the wood scratches along your cheek.
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.