Founded in 1994, the European Graduate School is a program led by philosophers, film makers, writers, poets and artists, located in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. A fun camp of critical theory and continental philosophy, its teachers and students gather from around the world in a secluded Swiss Alp town for three-week-long intensive study and lectures that continue late into the night at Metro Bar, Happy Bar, Popcorn, or wherever else. Fortunately, all of the official lectures are videotaped and archived.
This interview series poses one question over and over again to a slew of poets of various aesthetic modes. My intention is two-fold: to encourage these poets to examine and imagine whatever notions and natures they discern in their work, and to trace their thoughts about conceptual alternatives to the patterns and trajectories they perceive there. In thinking otherwise, against usual models or presiding instincts, they are free to delve into various realms of possibilities, creating fresh commentary on their current practice and procedures, and theoretical visions which might guide them ideally, provisionally, even counterintuitively. The prompt in some cases generates follow-up questions which the subject can agree to answer or just ignore, and keep silent (silence, too, is a kind of answer). After all, the free-play prospects my line of questioning wishes to pursue must also consider the poets’ freedom to take it on their terms, not my own.
Jon Curley: Can you envision what kinds of poems, whether structurally or thematically, you might consider writing beyond the realm of your past practice? Are there elements of poems outside your usual patterns and activities you might try to integrate into your work?
Norman Finkelstein: Jon, the timing of your invitation to do this interview couldn’t be better, since I recently completed assembling a volume of my new and selected poems. So I’ve been reflecting a good deal on my “past practice,” while at the same time thinking about the current series of poems I’ve been writing, some of which conclude the collection. I find the range of forms and procedures which constitute my practice over the last thirty-five years or so to be startlingly varied. There are overtly midrashic poems based explicitly on precursor texts, a mode which begins in Restless Messengers, if not earlier, and comes to a head, as it were, in the title poem of Passing Over. There is the full blown seriality of Track, generated through various numerological and recombinatory procedures and formulas. There is the overt engagement with projective verse and open-field composition in “An Assembly” (in the volume Scribe). There are collage poems of various types. There is the manic code-switching and use of ghost voices (à la Jack Spicer) in Inside the Ghost Factory. Code-switching of this sort continues in my current work, From the Files of the Immanent Foundation, in conjunction with an increasingly palpable narrative impulse, about which I will say more below.
In the hopes of encouraging a broader exchange among U.S. and Canadian poets, H. L. Hix has designed a series of one-question “mini-interviews” for his Canadian peers. A selection of these interviews will be incorporated into his forthcoming book Ley Lines (Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 2015). The subject of this interview is Tim Bowling’s The Annotated Bee & Me.
H. L. Hix: Your “Propolis” describes both your great-aunt’s chapbook and your own book as both “whimsical” and sometimes “dark.” Which leads me to notice the frequency with which other oppositions occur: wild and intimate, calm and terror, angry and laboured, heat and cool, euphoria and sadness, and so on. I don’t want to make too much of something that we humans do frequently in any circumstances, but I wonder if for you that sense of contrast or opposition has particular importance to this work.
In the hopes of encouraging a broader exchange among U.S. and Canadian poets, H. L. Hix has designed a series of one-question “mini-interviews” for his Canadian peers. A selection of these interviews will be incorporated into his forthcoming book Ley Lines (Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 2015). The subject of this interview is Susan Gillis’ The Rapids.
H. L. Hix: Two terms in the very first poem caught my eye, and I began to see them everywhere. Some version of “limitless music” seems to me present in “Sleep,” “Ars Poetica,” “Entry,” “River” and “Mid-Winter Dragon,” and some version of “troubled origins” seems to me present in “Sanguinaria canadensis,” “Spring Pries at Me,” “Habitat 67,” “Entry,” “A Good Plan,” “Birthday” and “Retreating Ice.” Which leads me to ask about the book as a whole: is it limitless music or a kit of troubled origins?
I’ve had the good fortune of meeting these writers who have opened spaces for new literary communities as editors and activists. Brian Kornell is Fiction Editor at The Cossack Review, along with poet Ruben Quesada, the Co-Founder of Stories & Queer, a traveling reading series that features LGBT writers with audiences all over the country. Justin Lawrence Daugherty founded the journal and community Sundog Lit, which publishes voices that “emerge from the ruins, not what idles in the calm before the storm,” as well as “literature that rages.” Recently, Kornell took to Twitter to discuss his frustrations with the indie lit community, and it was then I remembered these very words of that mission statement of Sundog Lit. Here, Kornell and Daugherty debate the ideas of inclusion and exclusion (as well as diversity and equality) in the indie literary scene. This conversation provoked my own memories of living in Jerusalem, with its physical/religious/sexual borders, and how experience, identity and space are linked to whom we read and how we read. I also hope it provokes any previously held assumptions from readers. —Rosebud Ben-Oni
Rosebud Ben-Oni: Brian, can you fill us in on what originally led to your frustrations with the indie lit community?
This interview series, “Conversations after the Fall: Interviews with Contemporary Russian Poets,” began as part of my Thomas J. Watson Fellowship year (1992-1993). This interview took place in 1996.
Olesia Nikolaeva was born in Moscow in 1955 and graduated from the Gorky Literature Institute in 1979. She joined the Writers’ Union in 1988 and has been a member of Russian PEN Center since 1993. She is a winner of the Boris Pasternak Prize, a past holder of a scholarship from the Alfred Tepfer Fund (Germany, 1998) and a winner of the City of Grenoble Medal (France, 1990). She is the author of twelve volumes of poetry, in addition to numerous prose books and collections of religious journalism. Olesia Nikolaeva’s works have been translated into English, Italian, German, French and Japanese.
Philip Metres: What’s your view of contemporary Russian poetry?
Olesia Nikolaeva: Let’s begin with the previous period of literature, Soviet literature. In the background of official literature was the “underground.” In the background of Soviet aesthetic, another aesthetic could exist that rebelled against the Soviet aesthetic. In the Soviet aesthetic, different streams existed. There was a pro-Western stream (that is, it seemed at the time to be pro-Western). A unity of cultures meant two poles, as it were, a Soviet and a Western pole…
Since 1993, Jeffrey J. Williams has conducted over 50 interviews with contemporary critics, philosophers and writers. The Conversant is pleased to republish a selection of these interviews.
This interview took place in Jeffrey J. Williams’ office at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh on August 8th, 2007. It was conducted and edited by Williams and transcribed by David Cerniglia.