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 poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.
Observations of Angels
graduated in comparative literature and the literatures of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the University of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He published the poetry collections Ravno sa pokretne trake (Fresh From the Conveyor Belt, 2006) and Zapažanja o anđelima (Observations on Angels, 2009) and, together with Dario Bevanda, the feature length radio drama Zvižduk u noći (A Whistle in the Night, 2013), written as a pilot episode for the radio crime series Bezdrov. Kreho’s non-fiction collection Bio sam mladi pisac i drugi eseji o književnom polju (I Was an Emerging Writer and Other Essays on the Literary Field) is forthcoming in spring 2019. He is a regular contributor to the websites Booksa and Proletter as well as to the weekly Novosti. He is based in Zagreb. Croatia.
When and why did you start writing poetry?
I actually made my first attempt at poetry at the tender age of 6, during the Yugoslav wars (back then I was living in the middle of the warzone). I wrote something along the lines of: “May the word ‘war’ turn into the word ‘brother’ and may all people love each other”. In Serbo-Croatian the word for “war” is “rat”, while “brother” is “brat”, so it was a convenient rhyme. Obviously, I have no idea what I was thinking. But I took a while to start getting rid of this affinity for pathos when writing poetry — more than two decades!
Who introduced you to poetry?
My parents introduced me to reading at a very early age, and obviously this included lots of children’s poetry and rhymes. But I first became aware that poetry was a ‘thing’ of this own — separate from, for example, music and songs — in my teens.
How did you become aware of this separation?
It must have had something to do with puberty and this frantic search for the means to express myself. We obviously “studied” some poetry in school, but it did not do much to pique my interest. On the other hand, my parents were both French professors, so we always had lots of cannonical French authors lying around. I remember reading Rimbaud and thinking: if he could write like this at 15 or 16, why can’t I? Even for a middle class teenager, I was pretentious.
How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?
If you are refering to the weight of the literary tradition(s), at first not much. I was never quite sure what ‘my’ tradition should be; generally speaking, I had a very fragmentary experience of culture. In the last few years, I started realizing how strong some constraints can be, especially in poetry. But I am still not sure as to how much of it is willing subjugation, and how much is due to objective processes.
What is your daily writing routine?
I try to do most of the writing in the morning. As I currently do not have a 9-to-5 job it should theoretically be possible to arrange. However, in my experience, writing poetry is different than writing both fiction and non-fiction: it is much harder to rationally ‘organize’ and fit into a timeslot.
What motivates you to write?
I have been fascinated by language for as long as I can remember, and I have always felt the need to do things with it. That’s probably the simplest way to put it. I do not necessarily feel that I have something special to say as much as I feel I have special ways to say some things. Also, I am quite confident in my writing, whatever the form and genre — which is not the case with most activities I engage in.
What is your work ethic?
I try to stay responsible (towards myself and what I am writing, towards the intended audience, etc.), but at the same time I try to not take myself too seriously.
How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I like to re-visit my influences from time to time. I discover something new each time — be it something disappointing, exciting or just plain weird. Furthermore, the mechanics of influence are bizarre: I keep finding out that I am not that much influenced by writers and texts I believed I was influenced by, and vice versa. Also, when I try to assess my influences and the context of my own writing from a writer’s perspective and from a critic’s perspective the image is often completely different (which I believe is inevitable).
Whom of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
I admire Tristan Garcia, a French author globally famous as a philosopher, but whose novels, almost unknown (outside of France), almost eclipse his philosophical work with their brilliance. Manga author Naoki Urusawa, with his incredible series 20th Century Boys, Monster and Billy Bat, has recently hugely influenced my own stories and novellas. Another French author I love, and whose work is often difficult to classify between essay, poetry and fiction, is Nathalie Quintane. As with many writers n my generation, recently deceased Slovenian poet Tomaž Šalamun has changed the way I see poetry, and even writing in general. His compatriot Taja Kramberger has written incredible meta-critical pieces on the dynamics of the literary field — she has been a huge influence on my non-fiction. Croatian authors Luka Bekavac and Olja Savićević Ivančević write very exciting, and, within the context of this language, unique novels. China Mieville is a global writing star I can always read, everything he writes. Playwright Dario Bevanda (disclaimer: he is also my best friend) should become an international sensation. Of course, as I am typing this I am soaking in anxiety because of all the names I have inevitably left out!
Why has Tomaz Saluman changed the way you see poetry?
I think it’s a question of timing. In the early 2000s, when I first started exploring contemporary poetry from my region (ex-Yugoslavia), there was a monopoly of neo-realism, more precisely of a certain realist reductivism. Poetry was often expected to explicitly address the present moment, articulate explicit political stances, etc. Šalamun showed me how one can forego this sort of imperatives and pressures and write very ‘contemporarily’ none the less.
I promised myself I would not be adding too many names I had forgotten to include afterwards, but there is one I must mention: Tanja Marković. She is a terrific author from Belgrade, who has recently shaken up the entirety of the cultural scene with her Facebook writing wherein she combines performance, drama, political intervention and fiction.
Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
I think I have been conditioned to write in my childhood. I started reading very early, and as soon as it happened my parents started encouraging me to do things with words myself. I think the two years I spent in the Bosnian war as a kid (1992-94) were also crucial: we spent a lot of time in shelters and basements, had no electricity to watch TV or play videogames, so reading/writing was often a default pastime.
What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
I am not sure I would be qualified to answer that sort of question. I think of myself much more as of someone who writes, as opposed to “writer”, as a symbolic status. Even in a mundane sense: I do not even make all of my living from writing!
Naturally, I could and I am always willing to give more concrete advice about writing. And it often comes down to bullet points such as: read a lot; read diverse; create a writing habit; do not take yourself too seriously; be patient with words; etc.
Final question: Tell me about writing projects your are involved in at the moment.
As I am typing this, a non-fiction collection called Bio sam mladi pisac i drugi eseji o književnom polju (I Was an Emerging Writer and Other Essays on the Literary Field) is due to be out in a few weeks; it is going to be my first solo book in almost ten years. I also have a poetry collection titled Simptomi (Symptoms) in the works. But personally, I plan on making 2019 my short story year. The idea is to participate in different short story contests (they are quite numerous in my language) and attempt to challenge the poetics and politics that usually get awarded at such competitions. Eventually I plan on collecting the stories into a book.