These interviews were conducted for Quorum Magazine, which is based in Croatia. This is their first appearance in English.
Interview No. 1
Q: During years you have traveled extensively, reading a lot, doing all sorts of jobs. Do you consider traveling and close-range experience a fuel for your poetry? Can you go back to the roots of your poetry?
A: Anything you do can be poetry if you are a poet. Any form of activity is truly vital, for writing, for the spirit, the drive of existence itself. We are all travelers in a way, into emptiness; the poet travels fully awakened and digs everything, derives from everything, pushes his way ahead with all the forces he has gained since he became a man of knowledge, that is, a lover of life.
The roots of my poetry go back to the lives and poems of other men, to their vivid interactions with the phenomenon called reality; since the days of the unknown antiquity. I remember that I wrote my first poem in the last page of my pad, in high school; and it was a brute attempt to scribble down something that I had no idea what is was, what I wanted to say. It was the action amidst all this necrophilia in the classroom that I longed for: I wrote my name a few times in a line, gave it to the teacher and I went out quietly leaving the rest of the class cold and speechless.
Q: Your recent poetry book will soon be published in France, you have been published in US. Good poetry, as we see, and contrary to some expectations, still exists in the world today. Do you think that there are favorable and not favorable times for poetry, or is it always today, and endurance of poetry is not to be underestimated?
A: Not exactly; my recent book of poems is a collection of previously unpublished poetry of the period 2001-2009, called Ati; that accompanies in a way The Margins Of A Central Man a sum of poetry in English that came out in Kolkata, India, in 2010. In France there is an unexpected interest from some editors to publish my long, extended poetic synthesis called “La Chope Daguerre” which I wrote in Paris and its outskirts a few years ago. Michel Volkovitch has translated it. There is also something that will come out soon, a surprise. I will let you know.
The human history would be a clear zero if there was no poetry. The whole history of man is a series of forgiven and un-forgiven mistakes; needful and needless risks. Poetry is the epiphany of truth; of absolute beauty; the energy that proves that everything is an illusion. The difference between the poet and the not-poet is that the poet embraces it all, lives it to the full and stands upright before death because he understands what it seemed that was made not to be understood.
I have written an essay where I explain my thesis on poetry and the poet; by the way, it just published a few days ago in a literary review in Greece. Anyway; Poets are very few in the world today, there may be thousands of people called poets but they are just names; the signature of the poetic spirit is missing.
Q: What about the importance of reading? Is it essential for a poet to create his own approach to language, a unique form of expression? Can you give us a few hints what goes on in contemporary poetry of Greece?
A: Reading contributes seriously. Above all, by reading the best of the kind you see the best of the mistakes and so you can avoid them. But I think that is a natural danger in reading. If you are not reading the best writers you will get ill. That illness called mediocrity; and shoots you right in the head. The real poet is he who offers the most serious mistakes, who writes by constantly risking his language, that is, his uniqueness, his signature. Poetry is uniqueness or nothing. As I have said many times before; Greece has a broken leg yet runs in the races; the whole situation here in real life, in ethics, in literature, is harsh and declined. I have turned my back to it.
Q: Blaise Cendrars said that language is not something dead, frozen, but something in motion, fugitive, attaching itself always to life and reality … what is left from his legacy? Is poetry nowadays attached to life and reality, or misplaced to not easily approachable location?
A: Cendrars was absolutely the greatest poetic spirit of the twentieth century; that is unquestionable for a man like me. His legacy I presume is here, alive and kicking; because, what the hell! Cendrars’ legacy is poetry itself! Poetry today continues to express itself everywhere; in many forms, in many places, in moving and not-moving. The matter is if one can be a creator; a poet who creates a poem; not just someone who writes a poem. If one realizes that difference becomes automatically a poet, not a man who simply writes down the cheap throes of his negativity.
Q: Once upon a time the poet was a wanderer, and a good poem was a voyage to unknown … is a poet and poetry tamed, so to speak, being overly institutionalized, out of reach, vegetating in university libraries-laboratories, handy tool for acquiring the scholarly or intellectual career. Also a kind of circus, shown on festivals, but mostly as an exposition of endangered species. Can you say something about importance of poetry in everyday life, and importance of everyday life in poetry? Can a poet be truthful if he doesn’t dive deeper in the currents of life, deep enough that he can touch the riverbed with his fingers, as Cendrars did?
A: In accordance to my answer above; poetry was never and will never be institutionalized, or out of reach, or will ever be cultivating as a cabbage of foolery. Also poetry, the poet, is not an endangered species; the few dozen poets of every century are more than enough for all humankind; the “galore” of poets is a matter of the trade of poetry, the whole publishing industry worldwide that sells garbage for culture, poetry, etc. That industry maintains and supports strongly its products. Festivals and universities also do the same. The facts speak for themselves. So, according to your question; the poet is a diver, is a miracle-man, a constant wanderer, an outsider and an insider, an innovator.
Q: Sometimes reading a good poem can take a person to a place already visited, but only vaguely, in hers / his imagination, and now everything opens fresh and clear, scattered impressions become united … you are a valuable translator of poetry, what is your opinion on importance of translating poetry, primarily for you as a poet, and for culture in general?
A: Translation is quite a trial; but I believe it is essential for transmuting and communicating poetry in other languages. And is wonderful too as a literary exercise. Sometimes it’s like you have a direct contact with the poet himself. You are messing with his peculiarities. Poetry travels the world through the works of the translators; that is a big deal, really.
Q: Poetry, ever since the days of Gilgamesh 5.000 years ago, has been one of the strongest forms of human expression. Is it correct that true poetry from the past is an estate that we inherit, and thus should behave like gardeners?
A: It is somehow like what is happening right now, while I am answering to your kind questions; to speak from the depths of my spirit I must speak Greek; but if I speak Greek that would be a serious trouble for you. I am Gilgamesh and you are the 5000 years; we must create something like a bridge between us. Basically; not a bridge, we just need a rope, stretched from the one edge of the spirit of mine to the edge of the spirit of yours. Always at stake. Poets are the molecules of spiritual danger; there are no gardens, no gardeners; poetry springs into nothingness.
Interview No. 2
Q: Polish poet Adam Zagajewski once said that – poetry is a revenge of the introverts! In a somewhat similar vein American poet laureate Billy Collins remarked that – poet is a secretary of the interior! How do you perceive this potential dichotomy between introversion / extroversion in poetry? Where does a poem arrive from after all; from within or from without?
A: I really can’t agree with the opinion of both. The basis, also, of the acceptance of into- and extro- is quite a fad. Poetry is the apotheosis of the spirit, the way of the genius, which is capable to reach the state of the divine. The poems are the faraway wanderers of inspiration (in spiritus), derive from the secret sides and come, always, overflowing with generosity, clearness and candor. The state of poetry has no interior and exterior ranges, all is highest inspection. There is no need for inferior levels and grounds. That’s why it really matters.
Q: You are a great jazz aficionado: some of your poems are dedicated to famous and less famous masters of the genre, from Tony Fruscella to Jackie McLean. Not to mention that you have a book of verse in the US which is essentially a tribute to the great John Coltrane. Where do you see the connection between the two art forms – poetry and jazz? Is it improvisation and freedom of expression above all or ‘something else’ as Cannonball would have it?:))
A: Yes, I could say that. Freedom of expression; if you own an expression of course. As for improvisation, there is not much to comment; that is the pureness of poetry. And last but not least: there is no improvement without improvisation. The phrase “something else” is accurate; poetry continually offers what is not expected.
Q: You are also to an extent a fan of the Beats and their poetry. Do you think they are still important as role models for young / younger poets worldwide as they undeniably were in the 60s and onwards? Or are they now just one of the many poetical ingredients of the mainstream? In other words, has the Beat over the years lost its initial appeal and drive?
A: It is too much to be considered as a huge fan of the Beat Generation. The truth is that one must be very well aware of their heritage because some of them were true artists. They were extraordinary writers, so if you have not read them you lack a lot. You can’t really go on without knowing the aspects from the early modernism up to the Beats. I think that is absolutely necessary. Today the Beats are solemnly included in the noblest tradition of poetry. Their appeal, of course, has gradually lost its dynamics but it is something that always happens to the movements; it will take some time until they will be requisite again. That’s the cycle.
Q: You have been translated a lot. What is your take on translation? Is it just a futile attempt to restore original within the context of a different culture / language, or a pure re-creation? Somebody once said that poetry is precisely that what gets lost in the translation? In other words, are you an ‘optimist’ when it comes to translation?
A: One hundred percent recreation, and one hundred and one percent communication. I am always an optimist. Poetry is optimistic; even in forms and ideas that may make you feel quite obscure and uncertain in the first place.
Q: From Mallarme to Rilke and all the way to Susan Sontag many were skeptical towards (over)interpretation when it comes to poetry/works of art. On the other hand Valery and T.S. Eliot were very much in favour of it. Personally, what do you think – should poetry be first interpreted and then ‘felt’ or the other way around? In other words – can an over-rationalisation do much damage to poetry or is it something that poets should after all settle for since once a poem is written it is no longer exclusively the property of its creator?
A: All interpretations lack of poetry; poetry does not need or is admit of any kind of interpretation/explanation. That is foolish reversed grammatics. Poetry is the epiphany of the state of the highest union of all the possible and impossible justifications of man. Therefore poet’s job is done completely in the most definitive way. All the other aspects depend on several conditions of the spirit of other men. They have to do their job too. And that means to dig poetry as it is and not through the explanatory channel of somebody who likes to make interpretations. The interpreter is quite the opposite of a poet.
Q: W.H. Auden remarked that “poetry makes nothing happen”! He was probably alluding to the role of poetry in society as a whole. What do you think — generally — might be poetry’s role in society? Is there an exculpatory role that poetry might play as a spiritual discipline when it comes to human condition since it is in a way a ‘freedom of speech’ in a most radical sense?
A: People must learn and follow the lead of the poets. The wisdom of poetry could be something like a panacea for the society. Poetry really makes nothing happen because it is already a great change, a huge transformation. “To happen” is the obligation of the reader. That’s all; and that is the meaning. To ask the poet to do more than the poems he writes is a simply superfluous. The effectiveness of poetry lies in the skull of the reader. The poet and the poem are congenitally effective. As for the “freedom of speech”, it is nothing if there’s not a freedom of the spirit previously.
Q: Finally, a question about ‘technique’. How do you work? Do you revise a lot or most of your writings / poems are ‘first takes’ as jazz musicians would have it? If you do revise, why do you think it’s important?
A: I have no technique since I stopped writing as a talented one. The whole unison of me, you, the cosmos, the universe, become automatically a poem, but in various velocities, in various shades of understanding at times. You can call them “first takes”, every poem is similar to a new-born baby; nobody knows what will happen later on to it.