Wombwell Rainbow Book Interviews: “Twoxism” By Maria Haro and Claudia Serea

Twoxism

Twoxism

Link to https://store.8thhousepublishing.com/poetry/twoxism-by-claudia-serea-maria-haro.html
Poems by Claudia Serea. Photos by Maria Haro.
8th House Publishing, Montreal, Canada.
116 pages. Color. Paperback.

 

Maria Haro grew up in Madrid, Spain, where she studied fine arts and graphic design. She graduated from the School of Graphic Communications and moved to New York City in 1994. She has won several global awards as a Creative Director in pharma advertising. She collaborates with other artists on projects that inspire her, and you can find her photos on Instagram @mariavisualdesigner.

1. How did photography find you? Or, did you find photography?

I am a multidisciplinary visual artist, so photography is one of the communication channels I use. I am open to any way of visual expression to convey an idea, so photography found me.

2. How important is the strong use of primary colours in your work?

I am a big fan of vibrant primary colors, even neon. I often use vivid colors in my illustration work (see: blondyiscrazy.com), but Twoxism photography took a different turn. The photos for this project are quick and nimble takes of real objects. They are unedited and never art-directed, staged, or posed. Color is just incidental, but it finds its way in. In a few instances, color is essential to the poem it inspires, like in this photo of a red door from Alicante, Spain:

Twoxism red doors

Red and white

Tonight, I’ll wear a red dress,
crimson heart on my sleeve,

pulsing,
like the meat thrown to lions.

Tonight, I’m a flame
in high heels,

a locked door
you’ll open

with the purest
snow key.

3. What is your daily photography routine?

I take too many pictures, more than I can review and archive. I love the immediacy the camera gives me. I love taking photos of objects in the street, imagining the stories they could tell.

4. What inspired you to take photos of pairs?

I realized objects emulate humans and their relationships, the designs, colors… it was so surprising to notice. The more I looked, the more similarities I found. It felt like a fresh way to look at what surrounds us as if it was an extension of us.

I realized the objects often come in pairs, as if they don’t want to be alone. The pairs have stories to tell, just like couples who have been through so much. And I wanted to tell those stories visually, as well as in words—so I started collaborating with my friend Claudia who is a poet, to explore the life of these objects. Which mirrors our life. That’s how Twoxism started.

Take for instance this image of two chairs in a hallway at my son’s school. I titled it “Hot seat, cool seat,” and it inspired a poem about the difficulties we overcome in life:

Twoxism chairs

A chair is just a chair

It’s the hot chair you sit on
in the middle of the highway
that has become your life,
where trucks and cars swoosh by,
barely missing you.

It’s the school chair
you sat on as a child,
still as a statue,
and flew over rooftops, reading
a burning book.

It’s the cool chair on the ocean floor
where you sit and sip tea
your hair floating around your face
and sharks swim by, indifferent.

It’s the chair in the doctor’s office
where you sit, holding the hand
of your best friend,
waiting for the test results.

And everyone else admires
how calm you are
and how serene you sit
on your chair on the moon
and peel an orange.

5. How did you choose the photos by other people in your book?

One of the collaborators in the creation of the book, the Spanish designer and illustrator Koldo Miren Guinea Herran, was actually the one who started taking photos and who inspired me to take more and more photos to shape this project. In general, the criteria to choose photos from other collaborators are that the style and the story the image tells have to fit well with the Twoxism aesthetic.

Several years later, our project continues at www.twoxism.com where we always post new photos and the poems inspired by them. On Instagram too, you can find my work @twoxism and @blondyiscrazy.

Claudia Serea

Claudia Serea’s poems and translations have been published in Field, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, The Malahat Review, Oxford Poetry, and elsewhere. She is the author of five poetry collections, most recently Twoxism, a collaboration with visual artist Maria Haro (8th House Publishing, 2018). Serea received the 2013 New Letters Readers Award, the Levure Littéraire 2014 Performance Award, and several honorable mentions for poems and chapbooks. Her poems have been translated in French, Italian, Arabic, and Farsi, and have been featured in The Writer’s Almanac. She is a founding editor of National Translation Month, and she co-hosts The Williams Poetry Readings.

1. Who introduced you to poetry?

I grew up in communist Romania, and, believe it or not, I started by writing prose first, not poetry. I think I was in 6th or 7th grade when I wrote a sci-fi trilogy about three French orphans who had adventures in space. My best friend Ioana and I wrote to entertain ourselves. We read and corrected each other’s work, and it was lots of fun, better than what was on TV.

Poetry came a bit later, in high school. It was the next thing Ioana and I decided to do, probably influenced by her mom who was writing poems at the time. My first poems were terrible. When I was 16, I got a very short nature poem published in Limba si literatura romana (Romanian Language and Literature), a popular national journal for students and teachers at the time.

I wrote through my first 3 years of college but published very little. After the regime change in 1989, I went on a long hiatus. Life got in the way. Everything was changing very fast, and continued to change when I emigrated and started over. It wasn’t until 2002 that I started writing poetry again in Romanian, on and off. I switched to English in 2004 and published one or two poems per year for a few years. I never thought poetry was possible until 2007 when I joined The Red Wheelbarrow Poets. It’s because of the group and our weekly meetings that I can say I’m writing today.

2. What was it in Maria Haro’s photos that inspired you to write?

I love writing about New York City. I love its grittiness, strangeness, surreal at times, and the mix of the cold concrete jungle with the warmth of the people in it. I find that energizing, inspiring. When my best friend Maria started to shoot street objects, she emailed me her photos, saying, “This is a love story, this is Twoxism.” There were photos of pipes, manholes, chairs abandoned at the curb, trash cans—and she was saying: this is a love story, don’t you see? And I started to write love poems for those photos, to explore the life behind the discarded city objects, where have they been, what they have seen. That’s how Twoxism was born.

So Twoxism started as a poetry-photography collaboration blog (www.twoxism.com). We had a great response to this project, and our following grew on Instagram. In April 2017, 33 selections from the blog became an art exhibition that opened in New York. After that, Twoxism became a book published in December 2018 by the Canadian press 8th House Publishing.

Twoxism is an invented word for all things two—among them, love, friendship, and relationships. As a project, it finds beauty in unexpected places and sees the mundane with new eyes. As a book, it speaks of love and relationships, like this poem and photo:

Twoxism White handkerchiefs

Breeze for your sail

Tonight, the world is an abandoned lot
enclosed by chain link fences,
and us, trapped,

two helpless birds,
two fish caught in nets,
two knotted napkins.

But I’ll say to you,
Hang on, love,
hang on.

Don’t raise your white flags yet.
Don’t surrender.

I’m sending you
a breeze for your sail,
sweet wind of faith.

I’ll blow a lock of hair
off your pale forehead

and sing to you
from far away.

Don’t give up, mi amor.

Together, we’ll hang on
the wires of the world.

We’ll billow, sway,
and flutter.

Soon, the fence will crumble
and we’ll dance.

3. What is your daily writing routine?

Before the pandemic, I used to commute to New York City for work every day, so that was my daily routine: writing and thinking about poems on the bus. Now I work from home and I don’t have that time only to myself, so it’s more difficult to write. Now I think about poems when I garden, and I write them late at night when everyone is asleep. It’s crazy, but I miss my bus commute and half hour walk to work. And I miss the city a lot.

4, How do the authors you read when you were young influence your work today?

My writing changed a few times, both in Romania and in the U.S. I first got over my teenager mode and started to study post-modernist American poets in Romania in translation, which was my first revelation. Then, after I immigrated to the United States, I embraced a minimalist approach to poetry that mirrored my timid relationship with the English language in the beginning. After that, I got involved with The Red Wheelbarrow Poets and changed my style again, influenced by their aesthetic and by William Carlos Williams. For each one of those phases, there are certain writers whose work I admired and studied, but there is such a convoluted journey that I can’t trace a direct influence to my work. A mix of influences, rather.

Overall, I have many favorites. They are writers who just speak to me, there’s no other way to describe it. Writers from which I learn and who make me want to write better. From the Romanian poets, certainly Mircea Cartarescu, Ioan Es. Pop, Cristian Popescu, Svetlana Carstean, Ruxandra Cesereanu, to name a few. On the American side, my biggest discovery was Charles Simic. I just love him—and there is nothing better than “The World Never Ends.” Also, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, James Wright, Stanley Kunitz, Jim Moore, Russell Edson, Frank O’Hara, and so many more. I always go back to them—I have a stack on my nightstand.

And I can’t forget some great international names: Anna Akhmatova, Marosa di Giorgio, Tomas Tranströmer, Federico Garcia Lorca (“Poet In New York” was a revelation), Rilke, Neruda (especially “The Book of Questions” and “22 Love Songs.”) I should add some novelists as well: Mircea Eliade, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Milan Kundera, Vladimir Nabokov, Herta Muller. I could go on and on, really, but I’ll stop here.

5. What do you enjoy most about animating inanimate objects?

Ah, that’s such an interesting question. It has to do with the act of creation—why does anyone write? To tell stories, to entertain ourselves in the dark, to travel inwards and get to our true selves, to explore, to make sense of the world, to play God. All of these are possible answers, and all of them would be true.

But for Twoxism, it’s also about having fun with discarded objects; showing the reader the underbelly and the many hearts of the city; it’s also about contrasting the rough appearance with the warm soul; trying something new; exploring this endless concept of twoxism: the fact that we are made of twos, as in two eyes, two ears, two hands, two feet, etc. We live in a world made of twos. We are made of contradictions, and search day and night for our other half.

Writing these collaboration poems is also a way for me to get away from my other themes: history, immigration, Romania. In fact, Twoxism is the most “American” collection I wrote; my other books have just some sections dedicated to New York City, if any, but Twoxism is an entire book written only about the city. Here is one of my favorite poem-photo collaborations from the book, in which one of the two chained bicycles speaks about the city:

Twoxism bikes

We’ll always have summer

We’ll always have potholes,
dirt, and rust.

At some point,
my goddess wings will crumble.

Your vinyl seat
will tear apart.

Grass and moss will grow
through our missing spokes.

Duct-taped,
flat-tired,
paint chipped,

we’ll go through sun
and rain
and piles of snow,
thieves’ hands,
and pigeon shit.

Around us, the city will rise and fall
in screeching tides,

but we’ll always have the summer.

And the summer after that.

 

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