James Pfeiffer: This collection presents a new world to its reader—one that may be inhabited by some seemingly familiar characters, but which is governed by its own unique set of rules. (Where else are eggs kept under lock, key, and the protection of armed guards?) And the characters themselves are involved in a bit of world-building, and seem to take delight in it—I’m thinking of the Princess classifying plants throughout the kingdom, finding herself caught up in the “elation of naming.” I wonder if you found yourself in a similar state of elation as you defined your world. Are there pleasures in world-building as a writer? And how would you describe the pleasures of encountering world as a reader?
Barbara Goldberg: I love traveling to new worlds—especially from the safety of my own chair. That’s also reflected in my reading preferences: from A Child’s Garden of Verse (I especially liked the wrought iron gates and the woodsy green landscape beyond); to Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (the more fabulous his cities, the more stringent the rules); to Julio Cortazar, who makes the ordinary magical—forks, spoons, watches, all with lives of their own. I am very attracted to magic realism and world literature that open possibilities not bound by laws of nature. (more…)
In the interview, Karen asks, “Does poetry and publishing poetry serve to deepen your connection to your chosen community?” to which Katerina responds:
I think the most productive way to feel connected to a community is to work to serve it, to give of yourself.
The interview reads more like an informal conversation between Karen and Katerina, and primarily discusses Accents’ mission of promoting brilliant voices and fostering an exchange in literature among different cultures.
Katerina Stoykova-Klemer interviews Filitsa Sofianou-Mullen about Prophetikon
This book is a book of seeing, of seeing anew events, people, myself. In this way, it is a way of understanding life and the importance of the other and of duality but also of oneness. It is a book of giving a modern twist to old, inescapable myths.
These poems place the reader in particular geographical places – both real and imagined. To what extent are these poems “poems of place” or informed by the place where they were written?
Let me begin by telling you that I have lived for long periods of time in three different countries: Greece, the US and Bulgaria. And I have travelled a lot mostly around Europe. Each place leaves a mark on me, one that has to be recorded somehow. Many times the places blend together in my memory or in my dreams. For example, in the poem “(Kolchis)”, I did have a dream of myself looking at a tree from a window in my university in the US, but it was the same tree that in reality I had seen in a field in a village in Greece. And thus the association with the Jason-like wonderment at where one’s shoes are, where things are, where one belongs. I suppose this blending is natural, at least I accept it as such. (more…)
Congratulations on the publication of The One That Flies Back! What can you tell us about this book?
Thank you, and thanks for the opportunity to talk about the book. It’s a chapbook of tanka, which are five-line poems in the tradition of a 1200-year old Japanese short-form. My hope is that they are fresh, original poems that honor the tradition.
How long has it been in the making?
About seven years. All of the poems except one are from that time. The exception is a revision of a poem that I wrote quite a bit earlier, which I have since realized was my first attempt at a tanka-like poem. (more…)
Accents Publishing: Throughout Mother, Loose, you are working with characters borrowed from nursery rhyme and fairy tale, as well as inventing characters within those worlds. And in doing so, you give what are often considered old children’s stories a more mature, modern context. Readers will encounter Mary and her lamb skipping school to go to the mall, and find that the dish and the spoon are only a small part of a larger utensil community full of fulfilled and spurned loves. What makes these “children’s” rhymes so compelling to you as an adult? In thinking about bringing children’s rhymes to an adult audience, how do you hope your poems will alter a reader’s view of these stories and characters? Is it elaboration? Subversion? Something else entirely?
Brandel France de Bravo: I am fascinated by Mother Goose rhymes—they way they stay with you, like a baby tooth that lingers into middle age (I have one of those that’s finally giving up the ghost). The simple rhymes bring bodily joy—to repeat them is to remember pumping your legs on a swing. While their forms are tight and unwavering—closed even—there is something Steinian and open-ended about their nonsense-wisdom. After all these years, I still find many of them mysterious, as though they were excerpts or fragments from a larger narrative. All those Jacks, each with his own story: the one who went up the hill, the one who sits in a corner, the thin one with the rotund wife. They beg for, if not completion, amplification. (more…)
James Pfeiffer: Setting seems to be at the forefront of these poems, the opening sentences always grounding us in time and space. How is place important to your poetry or to your view of poetry in general?
Anatoly Molotkov: As both a poet and a fiction writer, I have a special relationship with places, settings: I mistrust them. Since I was a kid, extensive descriptions and unnecessary specifics in literature have bothered me. My goal is to give the reader enough information to understand the text’s objectives without painting a complete (and therefore exhausting) picture. I’m more interested in a generic river than one with specific water and specific banks. I prefer a bridge to a brown steel bridge unless the two adjectives affect some essential result in the poem. Of course, the right detail is often key to unlocking the reader’s reaction. Under these circumstances, my use of detail is conservative and reluctant. In Your Life as It Is, the second person character seeks to inhabit a place between the page and the reader—I would hesitate to break the applicability of the narrative by providing details that are excessively specific. On the other hand, I often utilize recurring motifs—and in a work of this length they can be especially important. My generic places are among the recurring motifs.
Each of the pieces in this collection is what one might call a prose poem, but they aren’t the block texts which that moniker might imply—instead, there is a repeated four-stanza structure. Can you speak a bit about how that form developed as you were writing the collection?
The four sections on each page provide a frame for seeing the text and the world in general—four unchanging windows available to examine the ever-shifting set of four views. The issues and the terminology found in each section are skewed towards a particular set of concerns, creating a feel of four separate sub-narratives. This form emerged from the start, rather than through a retrospective reshaping. This approach seemed necessary to provide continuity, and consistent with the notion of life as a series of changing, but similar, days.
The pervading tone of the collection seems to me to be a tone of skepticism. There is a skepticism within the speakers about the ways in which they sense, experience, and think about the world. There is even a feeling of the poet being skeptical of his own conceits and movements within the poems. I found it quite energizing. For example, I’m thinking of all the questioning and challenging of vision and perception that takes place in just a few sentences like: “The little girl rides her bicycle by your front porch. The wheels are frozen, as if she is in a film. You realize you too may be in a film. You look around for a camera, but your own eyes are the camera and the source of light.”
Am I right to call this skepticism, or would you define it as something else? To what extent can that intense questioning be productive and to what extent can it be burdensome? What makes its presence so necessary in this collection?
AM: Skepticism is an applicable term, but uncertainty is a better fit for how I feel about it. Sure enough, thesaurus lists it as one of the synonyms for skepticism—but to me, the latter implies a colder, more secure position—a stance of viewing from aside. My second person character is much more embedded in a lack of understanding and the resultant insecurity. The character operates in a world whose rules are inscrutable, liable to change at any moment—indeed, even the core aspects of the character’s identity, such as gender, undergo a metamorphosis. And I would argue that it is the uncertainty lying in wait just steps away from the polished surfaces of our lives that causes our existential insecurities. We rub against this uncertainty in our self-definition. Whether intense questioning is productive for literature is a separate topic, very much dependent on the reader’s expectations and experience with text. Much of my writing contains overt rhetorical questions (those with a question mark at the end) —something I consciously avoided in “Your Life as It Is”. I often get criticized for the preponderance of questions in my work—just as often, I get complimented for the same trait. It’s up to each reader to decide which modes of literary evocation affect them correctly.
What do you hope readers will encounter in Your Life as It Is?
AM: It is difficult to formulate a recipe for my readers, with Your Life as It Is or any other work. The reader brings emotional and intellectual history to a literary text, and the final version of any text is the reaction created in the reader’s mind and heart. Thus, written text lives many lives. I rely on the readers to discover their own ways to interact with my texts. Just as writing is ultimately an intuitive process, so is reading. I’m reluctant to preempt that intuitive experience. In any case, I prefer to be the last person to understand my own work. I leave interpretive joys and responsibilities to the reader.
In an earlier book, Eden, I wrote some poems about the birth and infancy of my first child, who was born 25 years ago, and that led me to revisit my own childhood. This was uncharted territory for me: I didn’t know any poems in the English canon that dealt with pregnancy and nursing a baby, or with fathers and babysitters. The physical aspects of nurturing a baby, and the social aspects of sharing the tasks of parenthood, seemed fascinating to me, and worthy of a poet’s reflections. Later, we adopted our second son, and as a kind of late surprise, I gave birth to our third son and we adopted our daughter a few weeks later. At that point, I became even more interested in the texture and quality of the life of small children: how they begin to talk, how they discover friends, how they learn to make music and play sports, how they get ready to fly away. In this endeavor, I found more precedents and inspiration: Maxine Kumin, Anne Sexton, Galway Kinnell, Yves Bonnefoy, Anne Stevenson, Richard Wilbur. My children were the main inspiration, but in writing about what they helped me see, I was also trying to discern the universal aspects of childhood, the experience of all children as they grow into language and the world.
A percentage of the sale of each book goes to an organization that supports children worldwide. Tell us more.
I’d been thinking about collecting some of my poems about childhood. During the first few months when I held my oldest child in my arms, I often thought of other children with no parents, or with parents who loved them but couldn’t protect them from poverty or illness. So I started supporting organizations like UNICEF. About twelve years ago, an undergraduate student of mine at Penn State, Ashley Waddell, persuaded me to teach a course on “Children and Social Justice,” where we read not only philosophy texts but also sociological accounts of the global status of children, focusing on the tension between their right to go to school and their obligation to work so their families can survive. We also read about street children; Ashley worked with an organization in the Dominican Republic that tried valiantly to care for street children. (She went on to law school and has worked tirelessly for human rights ever since graduating; this year she and her husband welcomed their first daughter!) But from our reading and from first-hand testimony, we came to the conclusion that children who don’t have at least one adult parent or care-giver usually die before they reach adulthood: the younger generation needs the love and wisdom of the older generation to survive. So my commitment to supporting a children’s humanitarian organization intensified. I am happy to see that our pre-launch sales have already gone to support the welfare of children worldwide with a donation to UNICEF.
This past year, there was a happy coincidence. I had admired the drawings of mothers and children by my friend in Paris, Lucy Vines, for many years; one of them in particular struck me as the image I’d like to see on the cover of this imagined book. I saw Lucy last March, we talked again about the project, and she at last agreed that we could create the book together. The alternation of poems and images expresses some of the correspondences we found. Just afterwards, thanks to Philip White and Lisa Williams at Centre College, I discovered the books of Accents Publishing, and thought this press would be just right for the project. And it was! Lucy thought so too: she found the production of the book quite beautiful.
People who have just become parents, or who have just become grandparents, or who have just become empty-nesters. People who lovingly raised other people’s children and grandchildren. People who prefer poetry in meter and rhyme (slant rhyme), no matter what it’s about, or who like the interplay of Anglo-Saxon and Norman French and Latin words in a poem, or who enjoy contemplating the exchange between images and poems that speak to each other. People who worry about the 140 million orphaned or abandoned children in the world, and hope to help a little (like me). People who like to travel with their children. People who like to stay home with their children. And storks, since they carry so many babies! Oh, wait, storks can’t read. Well, maybe Sandra Boynton’s storks and hippotenuses and udderly cows and good gnus, who entertain so many children (and me) and are clearly literate since they make puns. My poems are also not without puns. In fact, thanks to my father, I can hardly talk for five minutes without making a pun. Thanks to my mother, I love babies and have enough patience to construct a metrical line.
What do you wish for all the children of the world?
What we all wish for: happiness. Here are some requirements for happiness. Grown-ups who love and take care of you so that you can think and play, and who also teach you about conflict and spark your anger in ways that make sense, so that you can grow up. Food and shelter and protection against violence. A good education that results in a love of books. Compassion. Friends. (You can’t make friends without compassion.) Chocolate. Garlic. Good medical care. Bright red mittens. A sense of humor, because no matter what we do, the world will always be intermittently terrible. And hope, because most of the time, after things are awful, they improve and sometimes even turn out to be wonderful. You can never tell.
Lynnell Edwards recently talked with Accents intern James Pfeiffer about her new book, Kings of the Rock and Roll Hot Shop (or, What Breaks?), as well as the relationship between "production arts" (like glass blowing) and writing.
How did you first become interested in glassblowing?
I was first exposed to glass blowing when Steve Powell started the program there at Centre in the mid-80s, but I didn't study it at the time. Many years later, I met Brook White, the founder of Flame Run when I did a series of creative writing workshops at galleries in Louisville. We did a session at Flame Run and Brook talked to us a little about the process. Brook is an incredibly informed and passionate guy when it comes to glass blowing and his energy and his vision for glass blowing as a way of thinking about life totally inspired me as to the potential for exploring glass blowing and life in the hot shop as a subject for poems. During that workshop I wrote a couple of very short poems that unlocked, for me, what I thought might be some of the potential for the subject. Shortly after that workshop I approached Brook about whether he'd be open to my sitting in, observing, and writing some poems; I shared the short work I had done at that point and he trusted me enough to invite me into his world.