On Poetic Memoir Wombwell Rainbow Interviews
I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these writers you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.
lives and writes between Bucharest and Valletta.
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
My first memories of writing come from the age of three, when my grandmother taught me how to write with midnight blue ink on freshly painted walls. She taught me to dip my fingers in bowls of ink and write on whatever surface I had in front of me. I course at the time I could only draw stick figures and write non-existent words, but that feeling stayed with me for a long time. The feeling of writing as a way of externalizing my insides. Anytime, anywhere, on any surface. A temporal foundation of what we sometimes call ‘being’. The transition from midnight blue stick figures to poetry happened a few years later, while visiting the local graveyard. I found myself surrounded by lilies, statues, and memory loss – erasure, traces of life leaving our collective body. Something didn’t feel right about the graves with faded names, about the tombstones lacking photographs, about all those people long-gone and now forgotten. I had this idea in my head that without a name or a photograph, without being alive at least as a memory, a person could not exist in the afterworld, expect for in the fires of hell. I know it was a peculiar thought, and it probably came from growing up in a culture influenced by death – and most of all by a fear of wrong-doing. But it was because of that thought about collective memory loss that I started writing poems on little pieces of paper and placing them on graves or tombstones without names. I would come up with stories, names, write lumbering verses about the dreams of those resting there in the cold ground, hoping that through my words they will keep on living. The opening lines of Barthes’ Camera Lucida talk about life consisting of “little touches of solitude.” If we can see history in photographs, we might be able to alter it in writing. With writing. I might be able to take all those absent faces, the negatives, the reproductions, and bring them back to life with my writing.
Looking back, not much of it makes sense. I was a child taking her first steps into a world I couldn’t explain, a world of failure, shock, and lost time. A world of which the adults around me were frightened. Writing offered me a way to understand all of it, long before reading provided me with such marvellous escapes.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
The transitory. The fleeting beauty of everything around me. I believe I was aware of it long before I understood words. Veils. Crowds. Rays of sunshine. Everything I looked at. Touched. Tasted. The world was ending, and I knew it. I still know it. There was nothing else I could have turned towards but poetry. If I were to pinpoint a moment, it would perhaps be the time I started kindergarten. I was much too young for it, so my grandmother prepared me by teaching me thirty-seven short poems with which to astound my teacher. Some of the poems were her own, others were about death or mythical creatures from Romanian folk legends. Baudelaire lines about absence, Rimbaud, Minulescu, French and German songs from when she was a young girl, poems about mothers losing their children to the mercilessness of war. Poetry was her whole life. She would look at an object, a person, a small shadow on the wall and come up with a poem in a matter of seconds. She still does.
3. How aware are you of the dominating presence of older poets?
As time passed, and I found the joys of reading, as more and more philosophy and poetry books made their way into my life, I started to draw my own path, leaving behind some of the influences of my childhood and taking the shapes and voices of those who resonated with me at the time. I saw a poet in everyone I looked at, I saw a poem at every street corner. Yet I was not that aware of older poets, except of poets from different times, poets reaching out to me from the pages of their books. I had Paul Celan tell me about almonds, love, bitterness, and tulips. Arseny Tarkovsky accompanied my path showing me dark expressions of grief, which I so needed to find in writing, but also the beauty of nature, of new possibilities, of regenerating oneself over and over again. Georg Trakl, with his rhythm, structure, and colours. Marina Tsvetaeva. Borges. Anna de Noailles. There were older poets in my life. I studied and worked surrounded by poets, writers, philosophers. But somehow, I would always end up turning to those in my books, turning against the metaphysics of my surroundings.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I don’t have a daily routine. I write whenever and wherever I need to. Sometimes I wish I could write more. Other times, I wish I could write less. My writing has a flow of its own, which is not always of much comfort.
5. What motivates you to write?
The unforgiving struggle of defining myself over and over again under the threat of erasure. There is this literary practice of placing words under erasure, ‘sous rature’ – originating from Heidegger, I believe – where you cross out a word within a text, yet the word remains both legible and in place. Without putting much emphasis on what the concept meant for the philosophy of deconstruction, this is what I do with my writing. Instead of words, I put memories, people, and pieces of the past under erasure, in the midst of poetical prose oftentimes shaped as journal entries. I need my memories there, on paper; I need my memories here, out in the world. I need them be able to cross out the imprint on my flesh, while allowing them to preserve their rightful place. So I guess what motivates me to write is the (sometimes inexplicable) hunger to become a story, to become something more than thoughts on their way to erasure.
6. What is your work ethic?
The one constant in my writing is that I need to keep doing it. And I try to always be faithful to that, to myself, and to the words that come from within. Even though I have given up so many times. Even though I burnt poems, pages, books almost, I need to keep writing.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I spend a lot of time reading and writing. I also spend a lot of time considering the correlations between what I read and what I write. I have always been fascinated by the way my words transformed themselves in the light of things I’ve read. I also have a special relationship with film and philosophy, I’ve played with the idea of teaching for a while, and the films of Andrey Tarkovsky have had a major influence on my life. I don’t know how to explain this process, I can’t say with preciseness how books, films, and other works of art influence my life and my writing, yet I know that I would be a different person without them.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
2018 has been an amazing year for me in terms of discovering new writers, a year that I will probably talk about for a long time, as it has brought back a hunger I had as a teenager of being surrounded by breathing artists. I am rediscovering European literature, and falling back in love or revisiting the work of Norman Manea, Romanian poet Nora Iuga, Serbian poet Jovan Zivlak (his poems are not yet available in English, which is something I hope will change soon), and Daša Drndić, who unfortunately is no longer with us. I have been reading a lot of journals and magazines, and am looking forward to new releases from some of the writers I’ve discovered this year and have grown very fond of, such as Tomoé Hill, Sussana Crossman, Fernando Sdrigotti, Rachael de Moravia, Joshua Rothes, Susana Medina, Jenni Fagan, and so many others. I found words, pages, whole books of stories, poems, and realities incredibly close to my heart. There are so many books on my shelves and in waitlists now, from all times and places, that I no longer know how I will be able to read them all. Oftentimes I think of myself more as a reader than a writer.
There is also the unceasing need of feeding my appetite for newness in terms of writers I’ve known and read since I was a little girl, which got me reading a lot of biographies, critical studies, and essays on the works and lives of those who have influenced my writing. I am in a never-ending quest to find out more about Paul Celan, Maurice Blanchot, Andrei Tarkovsky, Emil Cioran, Leonard Cohen – and the list could go on forever.
9. Why do you write?
I will let one of my favourite poems, by Arseny Tarkovsky, answer this question.
“I am a candle. I burned at the feast.
Gather my wax when morning arrives
so that this page will remind you
how to be proud and how to weep,
how to give away the last third
of happiness, and how to die with ease—
and beneath a temporary roof
to burn posthumously, like a word.”
10. What do you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
You write. It is both simple and tremendously difficult. It is as if you are letting got a veil while the veil itself is gripping on tighter and tighter to your face. You retain the memory of everything you ever were, of everything you will never be, and you keep on writing.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
In the past two months my devotion towards writing has seen a significant change. After years and years of writing for myself, of burning, drowning, or erasing most of my words, I decided it was time to let some of those words live. I don’t know if I am doing it for myself, for someone dear to me, or for the words themselves, yet I do know that it is time to shelf The Little Match Girl. I am still trying to decide what to do with my old journals, thoughts, half books. Currently, I am working on a couple of essays, and putting together some ideas for a book of prose poems, memories, and battles of perception – other selves, other bodies, mirroring of residing fragments, a collection of gestures and sighs existentially present in my mind, which I would love to turn into words.