ČERVENÁ BARVA PRESS NEWSLETTER
Gloria Mindock, Editor Issue No. 87 October, 2014
Welcome to the October, 2014 Červená Barva Press Newsletter
There was no newsletter in August or September.
Interviewed this month:
Eric Darton by Ayla Zuraw-Friedland
Jüri Talvet by Ayla Zuraw-Friedland
Meg Tuite by Jason Wright
Thank you Ayla and Jason for interviewing these writers.
Since August, the press has published the following chapbooks/books:
Les cahiers de Val-David Festival Notebooks
Los cuadernos de Val-David 2009-2014 Anthologie brève
Edited by Flavia Cosma
Contributors: David Brême, Alan Britt, Christopher Bowen, Gordon Bradley, Philip Brunst, Julie Burtinshaw,
Claudia Cáceres Franco, Luis Raúl Calvo, Rodica Gabriela Chira, Flavia Cosma, Carmen Doreal, Hélène Dorion,
Sharl Dubé, Louise Dupré, Denis Emorine, Adrian Erbiceanu, Anna Louise E. Fontaine, Jacobo Fijman, Antoine Gravel-Bilodeau,
Talleen Hacikyan, Eva Halus, Diana Haïk Hambardzumyan, Hugh Hazelton Louis-Philippe Hébert, Clelia Ifrim,
Jeanne Jutras, Anna Levine, Ana López, Frédérique Marleau, Gilles Matte,Felicia Mihali, Ljubica Milicevic Gertrude Millaire,
Gloria Mindock, Michael Mirolla, Pierre Mondou, Ofelia de Santos, Mel Sarnese, N. A'Yara Stein,
Czandra Mostly Luminita Suse, JÜRI TALVET, Patricia Gonçalves Tenorio, Jeremiah Wall, Cheryl Antao-Xavier.
Cervena Barva Press and Flavia Cosma received a grant from CLD Larentides in Quebec to produce an Trilingual
anthology of international writers who participated so far in the Festivals at Val-David.
(The International Writers' and Artists' Residence at Val-David, Quebec, Canada) The anthology is in English,
French, and Spanish with many translators bringing the language of the International writers available for us to
read. The International Festival of Writers and Artists is held twice a year at the International residence and
is directed by Flavia Cosma, a well-known writer whose poetry, prose and children literature is published in
English, French and Spanish, as well as her native Romanian. She welcomes at her residency, year after year,
new talents from all corners of the world. They have the opportunity to share their poetical-artistic experience
with other fellows through festivals where poetry and prose readings, book launches, conferences,
round tables, improvisations, music and exhibitions are giving poets and artists of all ages and styles an
opportunity to perform their work in the language of participants, most frequently English, French, Spanish,
Romanian and even Ancient Greek. (www.flaviacosma.com) This anthology will take you on a journey reading the
work of international writers from so many different countries and cultures.
The 10th International Writers' and Artists Festival takes place on October 4th and 5th in Val-David, Quebec.
The new anthology: Les cahiers de Val-David Festival Notebooks Los cuadernos de Val-David 2009-2014 Anthologie brève,
will be celebrated plus writers from all over the world will be there to share their work.
Be sure to check it out. http://www.flaviacosma.com/festival_details.php?no=10&lang=en
What Wakes Us
by E.K. Mortenson
by Anne Harding Woodworth
Midway Through Life's Journey
24 poems by Michael Estabrook
by David P. Miller
Order these books at The lost Bookshelf
Currently, Victory Over The Sun: The First Futurist Opera by Aleksei Kruchenykh
Translated by Larissa Shmailo/Edited and with an introduction by Eugene Ostashevsky
(and help with this project from Alexander Cigale), is at the printers.
There will be 2 versions of this book.
Cervena Barva Press will be releasing a few books in October and many books in November, December, and
January. We are catching up with being behind. It is exciting!
Cervena Barva Press welcomes Pui Ying Wong and
Tim Suermondt as book reviewers for the press. They join
Irene Koronas, who has reviewed for the press for years. I am grateful to all three of them.
Cervena Barva Press welcomes Zofia Provizer, who is interning with the press, and would like to
thank Mikail Jaikaran, who has been helping for a year now and continues. The press also welcomes
back Jason Wright as an intern. Ayla Zuraw Friedland completed her internship in August. She is back
at school. I wish her the best and thank her for all her help.
Over the years, I have had all wonderful interns. I am so grateful for their help.
I am happy to report that I will be on a panel at AWP in Minneapolis in April. I hope to see many of you attending.
Here is the description. Thanks to Larissa Shmailo for asking me to be a part of this.
Daughters of Baba Yaga: The Eastern European Woman Poet in the United States.
(Larissa Shmailo, Katia Kapovich, Anne Pluto, Gloria Mindock, Irina Mashinski)
Women immigrant and first-generation poets will read poetry of the Eastern
European experience, symbolized by Baba Yaga, the ferocious and powerful witch who
lives in a hut on chicken legs. Russia, Ukraine, and other origins will be
represented. Poetry themes will include magic, animals, adapting the immigrant
experience to the language of the new country, and how politics, including the
Cold War and the occupation of the Ukraine, inform the Slavic female poets'
work in the United States.
Cervena Barva Press kicked off this fall with some great poetry readings.
So far, we have had
Anne Harding Woodworth, Ruth Foley, Lloyd Schwartz,
Gail Mazur, and Andrea Cohen.
Here are some of the forthcoming readings this month:
THURSDAY OCTOBER 2, 7:00PM
Featuring: David Gullette | Frannie Lindsay | Carla Schwartz
SATURDAY OCTOBER 4, 2:00PM
Chapbook Launch for The AfterImages by David P. Miller
Readers: David P. Miller | M.P. Carver | Lee Varon
WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 8, 7:00PM
Featuring: Cindy Hochman | Karen Neuberg
FRIDAY OCTOBER 10, 7:00PM
Featuring: Alexandria Peary | Ayshia Stephenson
WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 15, 7:00PM
Featuring: Michael Daley | Tomas O'Leary
THURSDAY OCTOBER 16, 7:00PM
Featuring: Diane Lockward | Jennifer Markell | Tam Lin Neville
I will be reading at two places this October. Hope to see some of you.
James Gate Restaurant and Pub is pleased to announce
A Poetry Reading on Sunday October 5, 2014, 1-4 P. M.
5 McBride Street (Between Lee Street & Metcalf Ct)
Jamaica Plain MA 02130
Readers are: Catherine Sasanov, Jacqueline M. Loring, Lisa C. Taylor, David Connolly,
Melida Arredondo, Elizabeth Quinlan, Preston H. Hood, and Gloria MIndock.
If you are in the Raleigh, NC area on October 26th, at 3:00PM, I will be reading
with Bruce Lader and Harry Calhoun.
Here is the address of the bookstore.
Quail Ridge Books
3522 Wade Ave, Raleigh, NC 27607
I am very excited to be reading here. Thanks to Bruce Lader for asking me to be a part of this reading.
There will be no Raves section until next month. This newsletter is long enough with the 3 interviews.
I will have many wonderful books to share with you that have just been published by other presses.
The Lost Bookshelf Bookstore has many arrivals of used and new books. Be sure to check us out before or
after the readings and on the Saturdays that we are open. It will be announced on our homepage.
If you aren't on our mailing list, e-mail me and I will add you. We offer discounts in the bookstore that
are not online at our store. The Lost Bookshelf has been online since the start of the press. I thought it
would be good to have a physical location too. Hopefully, next year, we can have some set hours. It is
difficult right now with all my other obligations. All the used books are priced from $.25-$3.00.
Nothing priced higher.
You will find books on consignment from writers all over the world and all the Cervena Barva Press books.
It has been great fun organizing and
putting out the books. Visit The Lost Bookshelf Bookstore
October and November are fund-raising months for Cervena Barva Press. We are trying to raise money for
publishing/printing costs, software, ISBN's, a Mike stand and an Amp for the reading series, ink, paper,
cardstock, just to name a few things. The press needs the money to survive and keep going.
Whatever the press makes with sales goes right back into the press. As you can see by all the books
that we publish, we are a very active press. So please dig in your wallets and help us out.
We will be soooo very grateful.
Eric Darton was born in New York City in 1950. His books include Divided We Stand: A Biography of the World Trade Center
(Basic Books, 1999, 2011), and Free City, a novel, (WW Norton, 1996). The final two books of his five-volume cultural
memoir Notes of a New York Son, 1995-2007 were published in November, 2013.
Darton has taught in the Goddard College MFA in Writing program and served as thesis-writing coach at New York
University’s Urban Design and Architecture Studies MFA program. Currently he teaches “Our World Trade Centers”
at the Harry Van Arsdale Center for Labor Studies (Empire State College) and
“Signifying City: Freedom, Love and Power in the Writing of Baldwin, Berman and Others” at
the Joint Board of IBEW Local 3.
Darton has been an editor of Conjunctions, American Letters & Commentary and Frigatezine.
His website: www.ericdarton.net has more information on his work, as well as selected downloads.
Darton’s literary blog, Book of the World Courant is at www.bookoftheworldcourant.net.
His essay on James Baldwin and pedagogy may be found http://www.tupeloquarterly.com,
where he is a senior editor.
How do you feel growing up in New York or “the City” has influenced your writing, aside from obvious subject matter?
Every little organism experiences life in the big organism differently. I had a great early childhood – the city was,
almost literally, my oyster. Around the age of reason, though, a serious reversal in my personal circumstances shifted
my sense of well-being. The city became not just a place of nurturance, but also of loss.
But by the time hard times hit, the cultural die had been pretty much cast. I’d grown up in Greenwich Village, and where
we lived wasn’t arty, it was a northern spur of Little Italy that was mixed residential and industrial, so the music,
the rhythms of non-English and machines noise conditioned my idea of sound. It gave my spoken, and later,
my written language, a kind of layering that on the one hand similar to, but different from, the complexity of the countryside.
And I heard lots of Puerto Rican Spanish too, without having any idea what it signified, and Yiddish, and Russian
from my father’s friends and, of course, Black English. So because of what you’ve heard, you end up writing with a
very odd style, somewhere between Romantic flow, a Kazaksky and a bop. At bedtime, I’d be read books that basically
reflected Anglo-American structure. So there’s the mongrel mix. At least some of it.
I used to say I grew up working poor but not working-class, but then I came on a term Margaret Mead used to describe
her background that feels more accurate: proletarian intellectual.
And then there was the moment itself. This was the fifties and there was just a tremendous post-war energy to the
city that came straight out of the ground, through the soles of your feet, spiraling up your legs and into your whole
self. Think Coney Island. And the Metropolitan Museum. And jumping off high rocks at the northern tip of the island
into very dangerous waters. All of it accessible by subway, bus or bike – no need for cars. In conditions like these,
you don’t learn to appreciate diversity, you grow up to embody it.
How do you manage to go so easily between writing books that seem to be of such different genres? That is, from poetry,
to short fiction, to non-fiction research, etc.
Well I think I jumped the gun and partly answered that above. The trick is how to shift modes without
becoming schizophrenic. But it isn’t so much a trick as a practice of learning the constraints and
freedoms of a particular form. And what is qualitatively possible within them. The constraints and freedoms
of jazz improvisation and classical interpretation are quite different, but they are inherent in the form itself.
And there are some people who can do both, either by natural inclination, or as a result of a lot of practice in
That said, I don’t write much poetry, unless it’s required for one of my fictional characters. I started as a poet
though and a poem I wrote while working as a dishwasher in a hospital when I was sixteen got published
in Evergreen Review. I was over the moon. Burroughs, Ginsberg, Robbe-Grillet and, wow! Darton. But oddly,
post-adolescence, I lost my gift for poetry, though thankfully not my ear. I hope to get back to poetry one
day though, to a deeper kind of evocation through concision. And allusion. Which alone among the forms used in
the West, poetry makes possible. Though I think most poets still feel compelled to write far too directly about a subject,
and therefore fail to allow it to emerge.
To me the various genres are simply divergent modes by which one big reality reveals itself. If you practice them in a
dynamic relationship with one another, they cross-inform.
On a surface level, writing history limits my ability to improvise. So I have to take the associative part to another
level if it my mind and the work aren’t going to get stuck in the thingtual. Writing history can be just as playful as fiction,
it’s just that you have to let the history play you.
What I can no longer avoid though is that I enjoy writing fiction far more than anything else. That’s my pleasure center.
It’s where the eros lives. Somehow I do nonfiction as a kind of duty, out of a sense of obligation to whom or what
I’m not sure. Though I do try to find some joy in it. I suppose either I’m trying to balance my energies, or honor
my ancestors and their vicissitudes. There’s probably some residual, nearly vestigial, impulse to enlighten
humanity and “improve” the world through knowledge, which I don’t really believe is possible.
There is an ego element too, maybe. After all, with rare exceptions the “real” is much more highly valued than
the “imaginative” in our culture. My dreams are worth very little. The Pharaoh doesn’t really care about his dreams
either, or my read on them. Whereas cultural criticism – if it serves to make people feel more powerful and intelligent,
or can be used for political leverage – has much more traction. This insistence on Truth is part of our inheritance from
the Greeks, through Western philosophy as a whole. It’s why we invented monotheism, so we could have perfect a truth that
lives somewhere outside of ourselves and dictates an ideal and therefore impossible mode of being.
This ever-present schism between our actuality and perfection creates great fear, individually and socially. Which is
one reasons we have to stimulate or narcotize ourselves with ideas, when reality speaks powerfully to anyone who’s willing
to engage their sensory apparatus or even scan the historical record for comparisons to the present moment.
Divided We Stand, my 1999 book on the World Trade Center was a huge flashing red warning light to anyone
who was remotely awake: about the buildings’ vulnerability, our country’s terribly menacing amnesia and awful
drives for domination, but folks just drew a blank. They respected the scholarship and the formal qualities of
the book without allowing its analysis to penetrate at all. Then came 9/11 and a brief moment of semi-awakening
until Morpheus took us under his wing again – allowing us, in our strange, delusory slumber, to start dropping
bombs on people half a world away, the vast majority of whom had done us no harm. Or only the unwitting harm of
being not us, and therefore objects of hatred and fear.
What was it like to become the focus of such enormous and far-stretching media attention for your
book, Divided We Stand, in the wake of 9/11? Did it have personal repercussions as well as professional?
It was a deeply mixed bag. One the one hand, as a teacher, I’d often said that you don’t know what the world will
make of your book once it leaves your hand. Just write it, don’t try to control its destiny. And suddenly, there I
was living my own lesson in spades. It was very odd having one’s book become a kind of relic, the mortal remains of
a now-sacred thing. Both materially and psycho-spiritually, for a time, the book was the closest thing people had to
the WTC itself. And they’d ask me to sign it like it was a piece of an I-beam.
The media attention gave me an opportunity – since for about five minutes the news wasn’t being packaged – the story
had just blown a hole in the shrink wrapping of the spectacle – to, again, hold up a sign that said STOP! What I meant
was, let’s take this awful thing in, let’s feel our way, let’s deal with our suffering internally rather than
immediately acting out. I could feel the wars coming in the NYT headline: “America Attacked!” the morning after.
Having lived through the sixties, I knew how violent our country is.
So foolish me tried to stand in front of the tank, and unlike the guy at Tiananmen Square, I got flattened. With
combined pneumonia and psychic overload.
Divided We Stand sold a lot of copies, I don’t know how many, but tens of thousands, until the anthrax scare, and
in particular, Judith Miller’s WMD book bumped it off the hit parade. It was amazing how fast public attention turned
from the macro to the micro – from the pulverized to powder. So, did the public mind jump, or was it pushed? I can’t
rightly say, but in the biological warfare hysteria, the nascent opportunity for any serious discussion of 9/11 simply
vanished. The moment passed, ungrasped. Again.
Even after I was officially pronounced cured of pneumonia, I still felt horrible. So I sought out a good acupuncturist,
started doing qi gongs and eventually found myself practicing an internal martial art with Daoist roots.
After twelve years in this practice, I feel a lot more vital and grounded than I did before 9/11. Ba Gua Zhang,
which is both a meditation and a martial art, has also had a tremendous effect on my writing and on my understanding
of practice qua practice. I think the strength in my work comes increasingly from a more rooted, yet paradoxically more
ductile and mobile place. I’m less interested in manipulating situations, nailing things down, and more interested in
seeing what arises on its own. In short, duh, I trust the material more – and the process itself.
There’s a Chinese saying: “paint the clouds to evoke the moon.”
What Ba Gua Zhang opened up to me as a writer was the idea that obliquity and indirection give a different kind of
access to emotional life and to reality as a whole.
So now I’ve got two available modes: direct and indirect, orthodox or guerrilla-style. It all depends on the situation
and the type of language energy called for. My characters can talk about something and it can allude to something else.
I may not know myself what they mean to say.
Silence can become a kind of speech. And vice versa. Which is different from the notion of, say positive and negative
space, or, as we say it, showing rather than telling. It becomes a question less of that not this, than of how one shows.
You can read the Chinese character for, say, jade. But how it’s brushed, and the context in which character stands,
will reveal something far richer in meaning than the literal. Of course, I always had a capacity for obliquity in
me – most of us do to some extent – but practicing an “internal” form outside of writing affirms and strengthens
that tendency within the writing.
Do you have a favorite place in New York that you like to spend time? How has the city changed in your lifetime?
Well, really, more and more my apartment. Which has something to do with the ever-increasing intensity and
assaultiveness of Manhattan. Also, I enjoy my space and derive some sense of peace from being here. Don’t need
stimulus from outside quite as much. This is the up side of aging.
That said, the Staten Island ferry is still my favorite place, if one can call a ferry a place. You come and you go.
And the bay, the atmosphere, and the views, even the smell of the water, and the people are different every time.
The ride is also the exact right length of time, though it varies depending on tides and currents. It is also a way
to remind myself that New York grew out of the water, that everything I see around me, my own being included, was
nourished by it. All of it, the crassness and subtlety. None of it would be here but for the sea that met the land to
make this amazing harbor and its estuaries. When New York is gone, it’ll still be there.
Ishmael, in the first pages of Moby Dick, goes on at some length about how taking to the sea is the only thing that
can right his temperament when it goes out of whack. I’ve never taken a ferry ride to and from Staten Island that didn’t
shift my mood in a positive way. But of course, it’s much less passionate. Much less at stake. The pilot has yet to come
down from the bridge and nail a sixteen dollar gold piece to the mast.
I could go on forever about the wonderful places that remain in New York. My local café, for instance, somehow manages
to absorb tides of global anomie and still feel like a camp fire. It is still possible to walk around neighborhoods
like Astoria and not feel the kind of mindless intensification of Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.
We are moving into a generation of New Yorkers and Americans that do not remember 9/11. How do you think
this will change how your work is received, and how people write about New York City?
That’s a difficult question, because every time I try to predict the future, I make an ass of myself,
though I’m hardly alone in that.
What does remembering 9/11 mean, really? Since we really don’t have any sort of collective understanding
of what it signified, there’s no reason for us to remember it. Abstracted out of its historical process,
an even simply has very little meaning to attach to. And 9/11 was no more contextualized historically than
the WTC had been. One result of which is that, according to a survey done by a European paper in 2006, many
Americans could not recall which year 9/11 happened in.
Arguably the year is not so important, but it suggests that our perception of history is, essentially, an
orphanage for events – one where the inmates never grow up and go out into the world.
I have no idea how my work will be received in the future. I doubt very much that in a hundred years anyone
will be reading my work because it was written by me. They might come upon a surviving copy
of Divided We Stand and find the subject interesting, and its organization clear. They may recognize a
fellow mind at work trying to figure out reality. All of which makes me happy because I love the idea of work
that remains useful regardless of who made it. My grandfather was very careful with his tools. They are still in
good working order. If my daughter needs a brace and bits, she knows where to find them.
Culture is always transforming in remarkable ways. People reach for things they think will help them on their
journey, or that satisfy a particular need, or desire, (you can’t always tell which until later), or that
inform their survival in some way. If a book gives you something you can use, that’s the key to its survival.
I might write beautifully, but if my book isn’t perceived as useful, its aesthetics will not win it longevity.
If your book addresses an ongoing emotional or practical need, it may be around a while.
But here’s the rub, how are we writers to know whether or not it does? All we can do is write as honestly as
we are able and hope our language carries with it a bit of truth.
Of course people may stop reading altogether. And even if some people continue to write and read literature,
I have to assume that reading as we used to know it is essentially over. The social forces that gave rise to
the novel, and the era of mass literacy, and things like a "public" have shifted. And the West is no longer
dominant. It’s not that other cultures don’t have literary traditions or capabilities. China, for example
had – has – a tremendous literary culture, but it never commodified literature the way the West did or sought
mass literacy, until recently and then, for other purposes. In late medieval Europe, the book was one of
capitalism’s first real products.
It’s that the book and what it represented did a certain thing at a certain time in a certain way, and that
time is passing. One could argue that it has passed. A book is deeply relational, because it gestures to the
unity of things via partialities. It’s descriptions or misdescriptions resonate with our own experiences of
the world and its energies. Whereas digital media, I’m sorry, appears to be holistic, but it’s really totally
refracted and abstract. There’s no coherence whatsoever, except the ones we impose. It’s like seeing familiar
patterns in the white noise. Two generations of that and no one will remember the schemata on which the
projections are based. Which makes it amazing that Arab Spring happened despite texting.
Whatever befalls what’s left of literary culture, I figure that some people will realize that reading and
writing give access to reality in a unique and important way and will therefore continue to seek and maintain
that access. But the very forces of change from which a literate public arose will, in time, sweep it away.
There will be other forms. We are a very inventive bunch. I worry about the tendency we human beings have to
degrade our spirits than I do about whether a particular cultural form survives.
Tell us a little about your latest work. What are you working on now?
As the blues song says, there are two trains running: The first, G*d help me, is a blog, albeit a
literary slash pedagogic blog. Last year, when my former student Jessamyn Smyth, a tremendously talented
writer and teacher, became editor of the newly-founded Tupelo Quarterly, www.tupeloquarterly.com, she
asked me to contribute a piece. Amazingly, she remembered that I’d spoken to her years before about wanting
to write on language and power, and she suggested I might contribute an editor’s feature that addressed those
themes. Her prompt was all it took to trigger something which had been building up for years. Once I started
writing what became Book of the World Courant went spriral. It wouldn’t stop. And soon the accumulated
material had way outstripped a quarterly’s capacity to publish it.
So I rolled it into a weekly post: www.bookoftheworldcourant.net
The other project is very old school: a book. Though the subject is quite different, it resembles
Divided We Stand in the sense that it converges all my themes. The nutshell version is that it
is a study of the literary, political and philosophical writings of James Baldwin. He and my father had
a friendship in the ‘40s, and Baldwin’s mentor, the painter Beauford Delaney, was a mutual friend who
witnessed my parents’ civil wedding. So there’s a personal element.
And then there’s Baldwin’s extraordinary writing in a multiplicity of genres. I’ve seen the power of what
his language can do to embolden writers and its effect on readers in general: the courage it can give people
to accept some aspect of their internal strength and beauty in the face of self-hatred and shame. Or their
social marginalization or oppression. Baldwin radically problematizes the question of how live with –
and come to love – one’s self. He sees this as the predicate to living with and loving, others.
Part of what hooked me in my earlier book is that I knew, just knew, that people really didn’t get the
twin towers – what the buildings were saying, what they signified, the symbolic investment the culture had
made in them, and also that at some point this unawareness would end up costing us a great deal. Similarly,
I know too that Baldwin has been absolutely misrepresented – even, and most especially by those who have
Widely read and lauded, his work remains essentially illegible. And not because the texts are “hard” to read.
Rather because his thesis is deeply threatening. People focus on the passion, the righteous wrath, the blackness,
the gayness. True true. All true. But what Baldwin thought was astonishing – and he described clearly, and
empathically the pathology at our culture’s heart, in terms far more radical and challenging to our nation’s
emotional a priori than many whose politics seemed more radical. So America – which had produced him and whose
dynamic he absolutely called into the open – had to turn him from a supreme diagnostician into a set of
adjectives, the coup de grace being genius. But that epithet – the "g" word – only obscures his ideas,
alienates them from us as tools of self-protection and self-revelation.
It may sound grandiose, but I think I have an idea of what he was talking about and I’m obligated by what
his work has done for me to try to guide people toward its fundamental coherence. The catastrophe he warned
about is upon us with all four feet, and though they can no longer save our political structures, his ideas
may yet deepen our awareness of who and what we are.
Funny note: I began working on the book in earnest last year when I was sixty-three, which was Jimmy’s age when he died.
So the idea is to keep breathing air. And inhaling and exhaling words.
Give us a brief biography.
My childhood and adolescence went by in Pärnu, the town where I was born in the last month of the end year
of WWII. My father was a building engineer and my mother worked as an elementary school teacher – when she
could work, as she had to raise four children, the first of us born in 1940 and the last in 1955. The after-war
life in the Soviet Estonia was anyway hard for most people. After finishing eleven years of school in Pärnu,
I was recruited to the Soviet Army. During three years of my compulsory military service (that I spent for
the most part in Riga) I learned above all my Russian and studied on my own from textbooks German and French.
At the University of Tartu –where I am at present still active as a chair professor of world literature – I
studied English philology. We were taught the history of English literature by Arthur-Robert Hone (1915-1972),
a genuine Englishman whom love had brought to Estonia before the war. Until 1969 he was the only foreigner living
permanently in Tartu – an extraordinary personality, a graduate from Cambridge in Romance philology, with deep
interests in Spanish literature and culture, but also in Chinese language and philosophy and musical history.
Before my student years I already had a pen-friend in Barcelona, but we wrote in Esperanto, because I did not
know Spanish. As Spanish was not in our university’s curriculum, I started to learn it on my own from my second
student year. I was encouraged and inspired by Hone but also by Ain Kaalep (b. in 1926), a major Estonian
intellectual and writer as well as a forefront translator of poetry from Spanish. At the same time I started to
exchange letters, now in Spanish, with Antonio García-Barbón, a young medical doctor from Asturias. He sent me the
first books of Spanish literature I ever had at home – some by Antonio Machado, Gustavo-Adolfo Bécquer, Pablo Neruda…
These had a special spell on me, especially because very few works of Spanish literature were translated or available
in Estonia in those times. In 1970 my first traslation – a short story of the Spanish romantic writer P. A. de Alarcón -
was published on the cultural pages of the Estonian main newspaper, Edasi. Since then I collaborated increasingly with
Ain Kaalep in translating Spanish and Latin-American literature. After graduating from the university, I was employed as
a lecturer of Western literary history. In parallel I began to work on my doctoral dissertation, which I defended at
Leningrad (St. Petersburg) university in 1981. The same year my wife Margit gave us our first child, Laura, and my
first poetry book, Äratused (Awakenings) was published. Not long before that, I had the chance to spend eight month
in Cuba on a research scholarship, with the main task of finishing my doctoral thesis.
To resume briefly the rest of the story, there are three children in the family – besides Laura, Pent (31) and
Marta-Liisa (16). I have lived since my student years always in Tartu, working ever at the same university. Besides
teaching world literature, I founded and have headed since 1992 a program of Spanish studies. I have published
nine books of poetry in Estonian, several books of essays and collections of articles. I have made quite a few
translations, especially from Spanish, but also from English, Portuguese, Catalan, Italian. I have been editing
since 1996 Interlitteraria, an international journal of comparative literary research. I have travelled a lot
both in the academic and the poetical line. I have had a long and highly fruitful creative friendship with the
Spanish-Catalan Albert Lázaro-Tinaut and the American professor and poet-philosopher Harvey L. Hix – the main
co-authors of my translated poetry books published in Spanish and English since 2002.
Where is your favorite place to write? Where do you gather the most inspiration for your poetry?
I have sketched poems on board of airplanes and at cafés, but for the most part I have hatched them in
solitude. For instance, I wrote my first longer poem, "21st Baltic Elegy," while staying in autumn 1992
as a guest at the Oslo home of Arne Melberg, a Swedish literary scholar and his Estonian-born wife Enel.
Just on my way to Norway I knew about the passing away of Ivar Ivask, the Estonian exile poet and scholar,
formerly the main editor at Oklahoma university of the journal World Literature Today / Books Abroad.
Ivar’s poetical work includes a cycle of twenty poems titled "Baltic Elegies." So at early morning hours
in Arne Melberg’s tiny study where I slept I wrote my poem – a farewell homage to the late friend (and in
many ways, my forerunner, because Ivar had established a specially cordial relationship with some Spanish
and Latin-American poets – Jorge Guillén, Octavio Paz). On the contrary, I wrote my longest ever published
poem, the 200-line "Estonian Elegy" at home here in Tartu, under the immediate impact of the drowning on
the Baltic Sea in a stormy autumn night at the end of September 1994 of the ferry-ship "Estonia." In that
tragedy nearly 900 people perished. My intention was not to describe it – it would have been impossible. It
served me a point of departure for a meditation about Estonia as a country and a nation, its history,
culture and fate.
Have those inspirations changed over time as you have done more and more writing?
Naturally, concrete images have come from many different sources, both intimate and social, from daily and
nightly dreams. However, as far as my experience goes, love in its different manifestations has always been
the depth and the nucleus of inspiration for most poets since the times we have memory from. I am not an
exception. In my poetry it can be love for my parents and progenitors, for a woman, for children, but also
for my people as well as for others, especially those who have unjustly suffered in the history. Or in a
still broader sense, love for nature, for the god-mother from whose womb we all have come.
How does writing in Estonian differ from writing in English?
I frankly envy people capable of writing equally well in two or more languages. For me it is clear
that I can write poetry (of some worth) only in my mother language, Estonian. Writing essays directly
in English is possible in my case, but even then a native English writer should go through my text and
provide final touches. I am deeply thankful to my friend Harvey who has never refused either to revise my
essays or adapt my own base translations of poems.
[Where do the Spanish elements of your writing come from?]
[I will skip this question, as I already write about it in my life story above.]
You reference a lot of other writers and intellectuals in your work. Who are your favorite authors to read?
There are many writers whose work I sincerely admire. I have been lucky enough to translate into Estonian
some of them: Pedro Calderón de la Barca, Baltasar Gracián, Gabriel García Márquez, Francisco de Quevedo.
On the whole, I can say that I always have translated those writers who in some aspect have been important
Among those whose work I have not translated but whose genius I admit without any reserve, I would mention
Miguel de Cervantes, William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman and Federico García Lorca.
Over the last years I have intensely dealt with the work of Juhan Liiv (1864-1913). For me, he is the
greatest Estonian poet of all times and one of the most original European poetic voices. Once again
collaborating with Harvey, we have recently made selections of Liiv's work available in English – first,
in Meel paremat ei kannata. The Mind Woud Bear No Better (Tartu: Tartu University Press, 2007). Last year
an enlarged selection, Snow Drifts, I Sing (Toronto: Guernica, 2013), came out.
In my monograph on Liiv's poetry, Juhan Liivi luule (Tallinn, 2012) I try to show that Liiv was not only
a highly original poet, but also a sovereign existentialist and anti-anthropocentric thinker. In that latter
sense, he followed the path laid by the great French Renaissance essay writer and thinker Michel de Montaigne.
My newest essay book has its title Ten Letters to Montaigne. "Self” and “Other." I wrote its main part directly
in English, while staying at Rhodes Writers and Translator Center at the end of 2011. I am looking forward to
it publication during this fall in Tartu, in Estonian, and next year, by Cervena Barva, in English.
You were selected to participate in the writing of The European Constitution in Verse in 2009.
What was it like to work with so many other European poets?
It was a special project, half-humorous and half-serious. No doubt, a noble enterprise, as it also alluded
critically at the darker side of the European history, as well emphasized the need to look for the European
unity beyond merely economic and political interests. It was a great emotive moment to be with other poets
representing all countries of the Old Continent on the stage of a major Cultural Center in Brussels,
everybody reading a poem in one’s native language, while a choir sang “European Hymn” tuned to Beethoven’s
"Ode an die Freude," comprising the word “bread” in all European languages... The main composers of the
Constitution were the Belgian poets David van Reybrouck and Peter Vermeersch. They asked everybody to
send them four or five new unpublished poems, of which they used some in their original full form, while
picking up and melting parts and lines from others, to form larger collective poems...
[Where is your favorite place to write? Where do you gather the most inspiration for your poetry?
I will skip also this question, as I have already said something.
What are you working on now? How does it compare to some of your past work?
This year a major anthology of my poetic work in Estonian was
published: Eesti eleegia ja teisi luuletusi 1981-2012 (Tartu: Ilmamaa, 2014).
With its approximately 400 poems it in a way sums up my poetic search along more
than thirty years. At its presentation Janika Kronberg, a critic and friend well aware
of my first two poetry books in Estonian (of which nothing has been published in English translation
so far) could not hide his surprise having discovered affinities between the beginning of my poetry
and its most recent cycle. So, every end is a beginning anyway...
My most recent effort has been to prepare – once again, in a fruitful collaboration with Harvey – a
third selection of my poetry in English. Its title is Yet, Love, Illumine Us.
Tartu, June 30, 2014
Congratulations on being published most recently in Necessary Fiction, your short story Lined Up Like Scars,
is beautifully complex. Would you care to expand on what motivated you to write such a haunting piece?
Oh, to have strange ornaments in the shape of people come up and share a few dangling moments of their being
with you is exquisite and haunting. Yes, I met a woman staring up at dolls, but I moved in on her and spoke first.
She only said a few words, yet she was hypnotic. I've never forgotten her and slowly a story grew around that short
exchange that we shared. Really enjoyed it.
"My heart is the shape of a fist!" The last line in your short story, Can You Hear the Fog? published in Decomp,
a Literary Magazine. Beautiful imagery and the rawness that exudes from your pen is incredible! I have to say I
was quite taken with that piece. What happens to the character next? What imagery, imagination…just beautiful. What
do you listen to when you write something like Can You Hear the Fog? Where does the character end and you begin? Do
you use reoccurring character traits in your short stories?
Thank you so much, Jason. The deal with flash fiction is that we can fill in the gray space of past and future of
character so you can work in whatever you like before it begins and after it ends. I need quiet space when I'm writing,
so I wasn't listening to anything when I wrote the story, except whatever was going on in my head. Most of the time
there is a piece of myself in the story, the character, and reoccurring traits tend toward the overcast and
I want to hear more, I see you have been published many times online in-between full-length releases.
Is this the new way to get out there and be heard? Are these teasers to buy full lengths?
I do not believe there is anything new about sending work out when it is finished, well before a collection has
even been anticipated. No, these are nothing more than stories that I've completed and felt I could send out, and
if they were published than that was great.
Right Hand Pointing recently published your poem Stray. I must say I could feel this character developing before
me. I have noticed that character development is difficult, not common in poetry. Charles Bukowski comes to mind,
and his character Henry Chinaski. Who are the reoccurring characters, what are their emotions, and where do
they come from?
I tend to write more narrative, whether it be poetry or prose. I like to write about family and the angst that
rides behind closed doors. It is rampant through my stories. My family was a wild, strange mix of isolation and
awkward gatherings. I definitely work from there most of the time.
I like your collages: twisted portraits of legends who lived very complex lives. Jarring portraits of brilliant
men and women who shaped history like Virginia Woolf, Picasso, Nietzsche, Flannery O'Connor,
William S. Burroughs, Mick Jagger, Malcolm X.
Thank you. I enjoyed making them. A lot of people ask me to make a collage of someone they love, but I
only make collages of those that really speak to me. They were originally made as gifts for friends after
I surrounded myself with them. How they made it out there is another story, but the gut feeling is the same.
True inspiration and LOVE!
I am an aspiring writer and editor of a literary magazine myself. What kind of tips would you give to
people who are afraid of rejection and don't think they are good enough to be published? I felt like that,
so I started my own magazine for people like me. How did you overcome that hurdle?
Very cool that you started a literary magazine. I hope you enjoy the process of reading new work from writers
and sometimes sending an acceptance when you find a true gem! That's beautiful! Rejection is subjective. All
editors are writers. All editors have certain genres and writing styles that speak to them more than others.
I tell my students to read the magazines before sending to them. Most journals have a specific feel to them
and if it jives with what we're writing and what we love to read than send to those magazines. Don't send
Can you count how many times you have been rejected? I know you have to have tough skin. Do you find it
hard to be both a poet and an author? Sometimes it's one or the other. I think writers maybe use poetry
as writer's prompts, exercises if you will to get their minds in motion to create longer pieces. What do
you think when it comes to poetry versus short stories, and full lengths?
3,444,773 times if I don't include the four when they said yes and then went defunct or the other three when
they said if you could just change this and this and then... and this and this and then.... and, well, yeah, those...
I use a deep moisturizer called intensive nourishing cream and also a soothing spray of thermal spring water at
least 3x a day because I live in the desert and I know about tough skin, but am still fighting it! It's true.
I do use those, whether I get published or not. I had a friend who did wallpaper his apartment with rejection
letters and that was beautiful. I wish I'd done that. Now, most of them are rejections online, although I
could print them out and then splay them in all their glory. Splay. What an exquisite word. I like your
questions! Poet and writer. I LOVE poetry. I LOVE poetic prose. I believe it's my favorite medium and I
don't like to deal with how long or short it is. I do like to write it. And no, it is not used as a prompt
for me. It is the perfect climate.
What makes a poet a poet, and an author an author? Is there a difference?
I've always loved poetry. I've always loved novels and story collections. But I have to say that my favorite
is the combination of the two. Janet Frame, YES! Kate Braverman, YES! Bruno Schulz, YES! These are three poetic
authors that have lost the binding on their books and cover my desk. I am excited by their work and the
inimitable way they rediscover the mundane and make the inanimate animate. It cannot get better than
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