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.
V. B. Borjen
is an author and visual artist currently based in the Czech Republic. His first poetry collection in Bosnian, Priručnik za levitiranje (en. Levitation manual), won the 2012 Mak Dizdar Award for the best first manuscript by a young poet. His work in English and his recent visual art have appeared in AZURE, Hypothetical: A Review of Everything Imaginable, The Esthetic Apostle, Not Your Mother’s Breast Milk, Chaleur Magazine and Honey & Lime.
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
It goes a long way back, but I am not sure I would call it inspiration. I was eleven and I suddenly started writing poems. I have a vague memory of finding my father’s poem ‘Melancholy’ in one of the cabinets (he had perished some seven years before, during the Bosnian War). Perhaps that was what made me think I could write too? I don’t think he was ever serious about it though, I mean as I am.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
Beyond that memory, I don’t remember poetry having much importance in my nearest surroundings in those early days. Nobody at home encouraged me to write, or discouraged me for that matter. My interests have always been many and quite various, so it must have been hard to see any one activity as worthwhile some significant engagement from my mother’s side. But as far as encouragement outside of home is concerned, I had a great teacher of Bosnian in the 5th grade of primary school, Murisa Jukan, and she would always end her lessons by saying: OK, and now Beganović will read us one of his poems. What she saw in those ridiculous little things, I cannot say. But it was the first encouragement from a person of some literary authority. So I kept at it.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
Not at all for many years. I guess the first serious brush with other people’s poetry was in the secondary school and then later at university. Was there “anxiety of influence”, to quote Harold Bloom? I don’t think so. Early twenties are characterised by a strange, oblivious sense of unwarranted entitlement. This is not unusual, but as one gets to late twenties/early thirties one realises how strong a sway the past and tradition hold over us after all. It’s a humbling experience.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I used to get up really early, at five or so, and write till 7 or 8. Now with the full-time job, the part-time jobs and the PhD dissertation pending, it is a bit hard to keep to a strict writing routine. But I am trying to get back to this regime. I’m at my best very early in the day. But I write whenever I can find the time.
5. What motivates you to write?
With me it’s a need. Kafka said it well: “A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.”
6. What is your work ethic?
Work is one of the most rewarding things, both for my physical and mental well-being. But it has to be meaningful. Like reading, writing, or painting. The corporate job is rather numbing and draining because I see no purpose in it, other than that it pays the bills. Could I transplant Dr Angelou’s title here and say I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings? I must.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
The books I read in my childhood and all the books I’ve loved since are very much alive inside me. They are like a protective circle of good friends. I do not find them threatening, I do not think I’ve outgrown any of them. I’ve learned to appreciate that all the books have their greatest meaning in their own time, which comes for each of us individually. It would be ideal if they could come to us always exactly when we need them, but even if I read Winnie the Pooh or Moominvalley in November only now when I am 33 it does not matter; they speak to the child in me and so are timeless.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
From among the writers, I need Dubravka Ugrešić (for the beauty of her prose and the timely calibration of my moral compass), the late Toni Morrison and Ursula K. Le Guin for the same, then Jeanette Winterson, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Zadie Smith…
As far as the poets are concerned, I love the work of Heather Derr Smith, Ferida Duraković, Julia Beach, Senka Marić, Anita Pajević, Todd Smith, Monika Herceg, Šima Majić, Mathew Yates, Lee Potts, Moira J. Saucer, Lidija Deduš, Kyla Houbolt… This is such an exciting time for poetry. The digital age has reinvigorated it.
9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
To share the experience of being alive and out of the need to understand, everything and anything, or at least to try to. All writing is, among other things, an attempt at understanding.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
If they must ask that, I would tell them: don’t bother. People write for different reasons, but I do not think this is a kind of work that should be done lightly, or because it seems cool. I mean, everyone is welcome to do it, but if one cares deeply about literature, one has also this sense of responsibility. If one is supposed to be the continuation of the great voices of the past then think of the responsibility. I would not want to publish something now that 10 years on I would be ashamed of.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I am currently working on a poetry collection in English. My first collection in Bosnian, Priručnik za levitiranje (2013, en. Levitation Manual) won the Mak Dizdar, an important award in the region of former Yugoslavia. The second collection in Bosnian, Odjezd (roughly, Riding Out) is still waiting for a publisher. So this English collection is my third. I have another project going on, a hybrid of prose and poetry which could be published as a chapbook once it’s done. Meanwhile, I keep submitting, as most of us do, and talking literature and sharing my paintings with our inspiring literary community on Twitter. It’s a great time to be a poet.