Marc Vincenz reading his works
“…from the embalmed history to the embedded memory
to the unleashed imagination…”
With Tom Bradley
Marc Vincenz is the author of nine poetry books. The latest are This Wasted Land and Its Chymical Illuminations (Lavender Ink, 2015), Becoming the Sound of Bees (Ampersand Books, 2015) and the fully-illustrated, limited edition Sibylline (Ampersand Books, forthcoming). The Washington Independent Review of Books recently said of his work, “Each poem is an open environment where anything can happen, a ceremony of advanced thinking where a pilgrim of great altitudes accepts life’s vagaries.” New Pages called Becoming the Sound of Bees “… a book where doors can fly off in ‘butterflies of rust,’ where poems can stretch themselves sideways across the page, and worlds can build upon themselves in dizzying descriptions. This is a collection for those who enjoy digging their claws into strange landscapes and getting pulled forth by a culmination of sounds.”Vincenz is the translator of many German-language poets, including Herman Hesse Prize winner, Klaus Merz, Werner Lutz, Erika Burkart, Alexander Xaver Gwerder, Andreas Neeser, Robert Walser and Jürg Amman. His translation of Klaus Merz’s collection Unexpected Development (Unerwarteter Verlauf, Haymon Verlag, 2013) was a finalist for the 2015 Cliff Becker Book Translation Prize and will be published by White Pine Press in 2018. He has received several grants from the Swiss Arts Council and a fellowship from the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin. His own work has been translated into German, Russian, Romanian, French, Icelandic and Chinese; Bucharest’s Tractus Arte Press released a Romanian translation of his collection The Propaganda Factory at the 2015 Bucharest Book Fair. Among other things, he is International Editor of Plume, Executive Editor of MadHat Press, and Plume Editions, Co-Editor of Fulcrum. Although he has lived and traveled all over the word, Marc Vincenz now resides, writes, translates and edits in western Massachusetts.
TB: Congratulations, Marc, on your new translation of the great Erika Burkart’s Secret Letter (Cervena Barva). This is your latest in a whole separate career’s worth of translations of German poets: eleven volumes and counting. The Washington Independent Review of Books has called you “a peripatetic linguist … [who] prospers through travel like a psychoactive medicine man.” Aside from psychoactivity (which your own nine collections possess in quantity), the quality that distinguishes your verse is its breadth of subject matter and its command of disparate idioms, far beyond the grasp of most living poets. To what extent can such cosmopolitanness be attributed to your “peripatetically linguistic” renderings of foreign verse? MV: Language, of course, is not static at all, but fluid, continually appropriating and evolving. When you live as I have done, through extremely diverse cultural landscapes—say for example, from the gagging metropolis of Shanghai one day to the expansive volcanic plains of Iceland the next—you develop a broad view of the world, of language. You become an observer, an accumulator of culture; ideally, absorbing the most illuminating sounds and visions from each of the places you set your bag down. There is a moment, after all this wandering, when something coalesces in that vast array of voices and images. They come together in your mind as one, and somehow the world becomes easier to listen to, to silently observe. Language itself becomes easier to absorb. At least, that is my experience of it. Though I have predominately translated German-language writers into English, I recently began a new project in collaboration with Bucharest-based poet Marius Surleac, translating several contemporary poets from the Romanian. Three of these translations of Ion Monoran’s poems just appeared in Solstice Literary Magazine (http://solsticelitmag.org/content/three-poems-2/). I also have an exciting French-language translation project in the wings. Does my international upbringing have something to do with my affinity of/for other languages and cultures? Most certainly—it’s a passion, Tom. Do I feel comfortable in a wide array of places and sounds? Yes, absolutely. It was entirely the way I grew up—slipping in and out “peripatetically” from place to place, from tongue to tongue. It was somewhere after I arrived in the US in the early eighties that a light bulb came on in my head. I knew that I had to dedicate myself to the written word. Of course, I am occasionally befuddled by the striking differences in languages, words or expressions that on the surface appear to be untranslatable from one to another. Often, the approach in cases like these is to avoid the literal, but root around in the cultural context. In my experience, (perhaps with the exception of those social groups living on the margins of the world who have resisted modernization), there are few instances of languages lacking a parallel in each other’s cultural symbolism. Although linguistically these acts or descriptions may be expressed quite differently, there always seems to be a way to represent almost the same experience in the target idiom. When working with Language, absurdist or concrete poetry, however, from time to time you will be entirely stumped. In these cases, for the most part you rely on your melodic ear and intuition. For example, when comparing the German and English literary language, it was the Swiss poet and novelist Ernst Halter (Erika Burkart’s husband) who said that he perceived German as more of an internal language, a language that attempts to symbolize what goes on in the mind, whereas English is more concerned with the outside world. I am still giving his proposition some serious thought. TB: Can you cite an example of a word or expression that proves difficult to translate into English, perhaps from the German? MV: Oh there are many, but for example, the German noun for something approximating “a walk,” Spaziergang, for example, means more than the English “a walk” or “a stroll”. Potentially, the archaic English word, “a constitutional” is a more fitting parallel. spazieren, the verb, differentiates itself from gehen (“to go” or “to move”) which is more commonly used for the English “to walk”. In an attempt to get some kind of cultural perspective, let’s look at this etymologically. Spazieren comes from the fifteenth-century Italian, spaziare, which means something more like “to spread oneself out” or “to let oneself go”. The second compound of the word, “Gang” possibly originates from the Sanskrit jangar (meaning “shank”—as in the ankle), but is represented in old Norse as gangur and old English as gang, meaning “a passage” or “a journey”. (Consider the word “Gangway,” still in usage.) Out of the modern cultural context, the word therefore means something like “a liberating passage or journey”—which, of course, makes sense given that the Spaziergang became popular in the eighteenth century among the elite, who would take strolls along the river or through the park or along the promenade to take in the air—a meditative, perhaps spiritually healing activity. And it is obvious that to translate the entire message encapsulated in the German would, in most cases, not be suitable in the modern English idiom. So, depending on context, we settle for “a stroll” or “a walk”; this could be further clarified by saying: “a meditative stroll” or “a walk to clear the head.” Either way, the word Spaziergang implies that there is a meaning of sorts attached to that passage of time on foot. It’s all in the intention. I discussed this very word with my fellow translators at a conference some years ago and was surprised to find out that there is no noun equivalent to a Spaziergang in several languages (in some, apparently, even the cultural concept of “taking a walk” does not truly exist). TB: And what of your own poetry? How has your international exposure influenced your work? MV: Naturally each locale has its own fragrances, its own cultural quirks, mythology, architecture, landscape, customs, politics—and yet, all of these are mirrors of another culture: different ways of expressing (symbolizing) the same things. Humanity, after all, is human—desires and needs are much the same the world over. Imagination and innovation is a constant. It is my firm belief that inference and foresight are at the heart of human language. Likely this is the reason why poetry has such an important role in my life. Something from everywhere I have laid down tracks has wormed its way into my writing. And, in that sense, I suppose you might say that much of my writing is about place—or to put it more succinctly, about defining space. Becoming the Sound of Bees and my newest collection, Unspeakable Desires, are set in mythical lands—or lands of the wandering mind, if you will. These mythical lands are assemblages of many cultures. Spaces that appear to be specific are not obviously contextualized; allusions to figures out of history or entirely out of the realm of the subconscious (forests, mountains and oceans) materialize from out of the possible past or potential future. Little is as it appears on the surface. These are reflections of many eyes and tongues, many senses—real or imagined. They are attempts at the discovery of a common thread or vibration that carries through most known and imagined worlds. It seems to me that by stepping outside the every day or very familiar and placing it somewhere new—an assemblage or clustering (as if around a cell or an atom)—that the most captivating thoughts become less obscured. Don’t you think that it is in the universality of a mythological narrative that the most profound discoveries are to be made? TB: Possibly. But, in my own work, I avoid thinking explicitly in terms of “myth.” The notion has been debased by Harry Potterism and Superhero movies. If a piece if literature deserves the term “mythic” in the profound sense, it can be set in a so-called “realistic” world, or a fantastic. At the level where myths are made, either type of setting is essentially the same, as you just suggested. Can you give me an analogy of that “sameness” of culture you were referring to? MV: When I talk of mythological narrative, I am not referring to specific icons or symbols plucked directly from ancient traditions: Greek, Roman, Chinese or Mayan. I am responding to an approach in storytelling (mythmaking) that humans have used to explain their visions through time—a universal measure to imagine or envision worlds beyond our own reality; a method to explain or decode the unexplained or the past. Myths transform, shift and deform over time—along with the language that carries them; stories change, shift and adapt, symbols take on new meanings. A recent example of a stunning work of fiction that tackles this subject on some level is Will Self’s novel, The Book of Dave, or less recently, Walter M Miller’s fantasy novel, A Canticle for Leibowitz. OK, regarding that analogy of cultural parallelism, let’s go with one of my favorites: food. The delicacies of a specific region might be a feasible analogy of how an “internal” culture is reflected on the outside. For example, rice (that cereal grain which now feeds a lion’s share of the planet) and the varied manners in which it is prepared, from Rome to Valencia to Guangzhou to Delhi, may be an illustration of how cultures mirror each other. In that order, we have risotto, paella, fried rice and biryani. Despite their varied local flavors, are these not all derivatives of the same original recipe? The Ur-recipe, if you will. It may well be that the first recipe originated in China (where scientists believe rice was first cultivated), and this spread to India, then Italy and Spain—possibly by way of the Silk Road. Or, it may be that (as has been surmised with the invention of writing, or the invention of the wheel) that these recipes underwent independent evolutions, in different parts of the world simultaneously and it just the very nature of humanity that they develop down similar paths. Either way, if we are to believe our scientists, at some stage rice had to make it from the cultivated fields of Guangzhou to the market stalls of Valencia. And, bless the stars, a good paella is a thing of beauty. Of course, you can only ever see a portion of a thing—never its totality in the moment of observation. Surely it follows then, that we only ever have partial answers; and, if they are partial answers, they cannot be complete truths—just stabs in the dark, rice kernels of reality, that’s all. TB: So how does this continual up-rooting, this constant changing of locale, effect your own work? MV: Traces of diverse mythologies or cultural symbols creep into your every day, into your sense-field; smatterings of music and snatches of landscapes too. A poem may arise with a visualization or it may make itself known sonically through an opening line, a mental image or a melody that leads the rest of the poem musically or imagistically. So, sound, cadence and tone (the singsong resonance of a particular tongue) finds its way through the tiniest of crevices. And the most vibrant visuals too: from the street stalls of Asia to the jungles of South America to the mountain landscapes of the Alps. Quite often, while working on a poem, I’ll find myself transported to one of these distant locales. When there in your mind’s eye, you can’t help by become enchanted with the feast of senses. More often than not, I allow these senses to come through and reflect themselves in the poem. Occasionally they lead down dead end roads, but mostly they are loyal companions on my literary journey. Over time, I find it easier to tap into these other worlds—even sitting in a café in the middle of New York City. And strangely, at least for me, it is probably the most effective to dream up a world at the polar-end of the place you find yourself in that particular moment. And then, there are the voices too: the wide-eyed calls of the fish merchants, the saber-rattling of the lager louts and the soccer supporters, the Latinate incantations of the Benedictine monks or the karmic chants of the Buddhist lamas, the uninterrupted swell and sway of the oceans and the squawk of the seabirds … there is no end to the marvelous palette of sounds and colors—not enough words and phrases and time to bring them all together. As you know, I was brought up a wanderer. It is in my blood, no matter where I find myself, and so, in the course of my writings, I drift and delve—from the embalmed history to the embedded memory to the unleashed imagination, which is, of course, a reflection of memory too. Even a mirror is a reflection of itself. TB: To call you a wanderer is putting it mildly. You’re only poetically peripatetic, but your corporeal moiety has been around the block a few times as well: nativity in Hong Kong; adolescence in a Swiss monastery; varsity hijinks in the USA; adult residence in Spain and The People’s Republic of China; sojourn in Iceland. Does this universality somehow account for the impressive array of languages into which you have been deemed, and proven, eminently translatable? Also, These qualities in your work lead me to suspect that you were brought up in at least a bi-, if not multilingual household. How many tongues lashed your developing ears? MV: I was brought up in a household that spoke three main languages: English, German and Rhetoromanish. On top of that, since early childhood (having been born in Hong Kong), I had the sounds of Cantonese and Mandarin clanking in my head. As a small child in the 1960s and ’70s, I played and scrapped with the children of the market stall owners of Hong Kong’s Stanley Market and spoke fluent Cantonese. But my father worked with people from all over the world, and thus I grew up in a home that never had less than five languages careening around at any one time. In a sense, I’ve been translating all my life. My mother is British and my father was Swiss, a country lad from a small mountain village. My father’s mother tongue was Romanish, or more specifically, Rhetoromanish (Romantsch Sursilvan, a direct descendent of the language spoken in the Roman Empire with a handful of Celtic words tossed in the mix—only around 20,000 people speak it); but, like much of Switzerland, he grew up multilingual: German being his second language; Italian, third; French, fourth. He was taught English in high school, but by the time I was born, he barely had a trace of Swiss accent. TB: When talking of Romans and Celts, one of the poems from your collection Becoming the Sound of Bees comes to mind—“Old Country”. On Sundays before she rises to the murmur of ancient god-call, before a thousand pilgrims plummet, cows graze uphill against the grain. & as mountain swelters in shadow, the last lynx growls in the trees. Gion and Gulio guzzle beer hot, even in the swell of lukewarm summer. In this hidden valley night crawls slow, here you find the lost snow of Caesars, the pit that held a hundred angry Celts roaring at shin-yapping hounds, bleeding spikes thick as arm-wrestlers. He enters the shrubbery pelted, without a single thought for blood, but for lichens & wild crowberries. She turns to face him in the dark earth of her precious skin, a fine golden weed of hair like Cassandra, & asks him to let the wolves in. TB: Was this poem somehow inspired by your father’s Romanish heritage? And how about your mother? MV: Yes, there are references there: the locale, the mountains, Gion and Gulio guzzling lukewarm beer (regular customers at my aunt’s restaurant in Switzerland—every morning they would ask her to warm the beer up in a pot), and that lost snow of Caesars (locked in the valleys—as was language itself). My mother’s parents were Cockney Londoners. After the turmoil of the Second World War, my mother’s father took his family of three—my mother, grandmother and himself—to live in the Pearl of the Orient, Hong Kong. Mum was five years old when she arrived in Whampoa Harbor on a passenger ship from Portsmouth and was exposed to the multicultural center of Asia, which was then British Hong Kong. She speaks English, a smattering of French, Cantonese (enough to get by in the markets and street stalls ) but somehow, she never got along with German. At one stage she learned Romanish, and apparently, one summer in Switzerland actually managed to hold simple conversations, but it never really stuck. So, we always spoke English in our home. It remained our staple whether we lived in Hong Kong, Switzerland, Spain, England or the United States. My father and I would sometimes speak German, occasionally Swiss-German (when we wanted to be certain no one could understand), and as I had said previously, there were always several other languages floating around on any given week. Later, in the various schools I attended, I was forced to learn Swiss-German (quite different from the standardized “high” German), Latin, French; later still, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Icelandic, Mandarin. Literary translation is something I began much later, on a whim really. It was when I lived in Iceland and stumbled across a book of German poetry in the Reykjavik Library. It was a collection by the Swiss poet, Erica Burkart. I took the book home, and almost automatically, without thinking, began to translate them into English. The whole translation process seemed completely natural to me—very similar to writing my own work, only I was fine-tuning my ear to another voice, another narrative that wasn’t specific to me. On some level I had always been doing that. TB: So then, would you say your writing has been influenced by the works you have translated? MV: Certainly. But not by way of direct imitation. Erika Burkart, for example, and her husband, the poet Ernst Halter, taught me quite a bit about observing detail in nature—or more specifically, a unique way of looking at nature as a language, a mythological, coded language, that—in her case—the poet spent a lifetime attempting to decipher. Two other Swiss poets, Klaus Merz and Werner Lutz, both taught me about the short form. Much of their poetry lives within the boundaries of four or five lines. Inspired by my translations of their work, I dove deep into the fantastic world of the haiku, of the Zen poets and the ancient Chinese work of Li Po and Du Fu, the gushi forms. As you know, there are many voices in my own writing—so the translation work seems a natural extension of what I do. At a certain point, the translation becomes your own work. The narrative is still someone else’s, but, much as an instrumentalist interprets a melody, the new words in your own language become part of your personal glossary. A couple of years ago, the Zurich-based press, Wolfbach Verlag, brought out a bilingual poetry collection of mine translated into the German by Swiss professor of English literature, André Erhard, Additional Breathing Exercises / Zusätzliche Atemübungen. The translation took around a year and a half to complete and I worked very closely with André and the editor of the publishing house, Markus Bundi. Experiencing translation from the other side of the German language taught me much about my own writing and the blood, sweat and tears of deciphering cultural symbols. André, Markus and I spent several day-long sessions arguing over poetry and wine. TB: The great Helena Petrovna Blavatsky could with equal ease have written her books and spread her evangel in Russian, French, German or sacerdotal Senzar, but, seeing how the USA was burgeoning in her day, she foresaw that English would long be the lingua franca, so chose that. Why do you choose English for most of your poetry? MV: The fact of the matter, Tom, is that English was and remains my mother tongue. It was the main language we spoke at home, and aside from my time at the Benedictine monastery (ages twelve to sixteen), the majority of my education was in the English language. I feel comfortable translating into the English from many tongues—however, the other way around? No. I don’t believe my written German is on a literary level. Good enough for family correspondence, but not for writing poetry or philosophy. TB: Not surprisingly, your books are set in ever-distorting, metamorphosing landscapes, sometimes sheerly fanciful, often composites. The one exception is Mao’s Mole. The famous phrase, “Live a week in the Middle Kingdom, write a book. Live a month, write an article. Live a year, write nothing,” clearly does not apply to you. What is it about the world’s oldest, hugest civilization that compelled you to place an entire book within its boundaries? MV: The years living in China—over ten of them, I resided in the bustling city of Shanghai. I traveled far and wide across the Middle Kingdom. I even had the chance to visit that fabled city of Lhasa in Tibet and walk those thousand steps or so to the Potala Palace where once the Dalai Lama resided. Despite having grown up in Hong Kong and my father’s business dealings with the communist Chinese government of the sixties, seventies and eighties, I had always lived at a distance from China proper, that elusive kingdom behind the bamboo curtain. When my father went on his business trips, be would often be gone for weeks on end. (In those days you could only communicate with China via telegraph or the very occasional telephone call—according to Dad, you had to fill out a form with the content of your message, which first needed approval from the appropriate government body. He once attempted to make a call to his father in Switzerland and wrote on the form that he would be speaking in Romanish. The call was not permitted.) When he returned, normally utterly exhausted, he would recount to my sister and I the wild and fanciful tales of what went on in that elusive, impenetrable Kingdom of Mao. You must understand that very very few foreigners had actually visited China during that era. Nixon didn’t even get there until 1972. I guess there was always something urging me back. Some part of me wanted to try and comprehend what this place, a place that I had been surrounded by as a child, truly was; to fill in the blanks, so to speak. I learned my lesson the hard way. In the nineties, I moved to China to begin a fateful business cooperation with a Jiangsu native. The next ten years were probably the wildest, craziest of my life. Over that period we built a small empire in industrial design, manufacturing, exporting all manner of goods from China to Europe, then later to the US. At one stage, we employed somewhere close to two thousand people: factories in Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces, a massive logistic center, two hundred or so working in our Shanghai head offices, including a sales and marketing team of expats from all over the world. Over twenty languages were spoken in the office—from Ukrainian to Tagalog, from Hindi to Norwegian. It was nearly the end of me. On so many levels it was wrong—the exploitation of cheap labor, the manufacturing of substandard products, the layers and levels of cronyism and corruption. Naively, we believed we might do some good, we might be able to influence the world—and China in a small positive way. We followed the strictest, most balanced policies of employment, took care of our staff and their families as best we could, invested in locals, in their culture, in their art and craft. We attempted to do non-profit work, helping in further education and so forth. Over the years, we tangled with bureaucrats, argued with crooked judges and government officials, fended off dishonest businessmen and their cronies, and dodged the sharp knives of organized crime (which spins its deadly web through much of the PRC). These nerve-wracking encounters occurred virtually on a daily basis. It was a nightmare, Tom. And yet, life was so varied and rich. Shanghai in the nineties seemed like cocaine-fueled Boomtown—the horizon transformed on a daily basis. For the first few years we lived in the same apartment on the Old Concession side of Shanghai, not too far away from the Bund. In the space of those few years, the simple hardware market across the road miraculously transformed into a beautifully manicured park with little paddle boats, later a textile market, then a shopping mall (which was never occupied), and finally into to a megalithic high-rise that eventually blocked out the daylight and the ever-yellowing horizon.
Zhong Guo* means the middle country; the middle way**, the path to liberation.
Coal thieves on scooters dig from the middle of the earth, separate the temporal from the permanent, burn fires that melt iron ore and draw curtains over the skies.
The old man wished for the atom bomb, but Stalin wouldn’t give it to him.
In 1967, he got it.
He dredged fish from lifeless rivers, fed souls with limp clothes and hungry eyes.
As we were told, in our Village Cooperatives and People’s Communes, real miracles could happen.
In 1970, he launched satellites straight into heaven, to give us an eye on the world.
I’ve been told you can’t split the atom any way but down the middle.***TB: * The Mandarin word for China, which also means the middle nation or kingdom. **/***ironic, because “the middle way” is also the Noble Eightfold path of Buddhism which aspires to moderation, leading to complete “emptiness” that transcends “atomic” existence. TB: You seem, lately, to be bringing these hugely far-flung worlds, traditions and idioms together into a composite poesy and mythos, planetary rather than regional. Is this a conscious project? I would think, if you set explicitly out to do such a Herculean labor, it might be daunting, to say the least. But, reading your books in succession, it feels more like a—to use the devalued term—organic process. MV: The process is self-aware only in the sense that I search for the source of a common river, aided in part by myth and legend, but also by those linguistic entropies I touched upon earlier. My literary mentor as an undergrad at Duke University was Reynolds Price. He was constantly telling me that I might run aground on the same shores that William Blake was beached—with my mystical language and magical approach to verse. Reynolds preached complete clarity, and was mostly lauded for it (although he is predominately known for his fiction). And yet, Reynolds, aside from being a poet, fiction writer, non-fiction writer and novelist, was also a Milton scholar. T. S. Eliot himself famously said that Milton’s “syntax is dictated by a demand for verbal music, instead of any demand of sense.” A little strange coming from the author of that oh-so-modernist The Waste Land, eh? I am certain that Reynolds was delighted with his own dichotomy. The actual outpouring comes organically, as you say, however it can and may be induced by train journeys, earthquakes, mountain paths and or encounters of a circumspect kind. No, seriously, I would say it is a natural other-dimensional state of awareness, no more than slipping into or shedding of a second skin. It hovers there all the time: a parallel state of reality—a would-be-could-be-probably-will-be. There’s that foresight in the firelight again, that sense of reaching into the primordial fire: the realms of mythology and magick, the realm of “sacred” symbolism. From time to time, there are themes or images that arise in those semi-conscious moments that drive the narrative along its axis mundi (or axiom). These may arise in the moment or come much later. It doesn’t really strike me as a Herculean labor, rather more of a natural wandering, almost as if I were walking though a familiar landscape: a forest, a cove, a plain, a valley (there you see that sense of filling in space along a stream of words). Ernst Halter rather aptly explained his own process as one of traversing a great body of water and somehow having a second sense as to where he might encounter the next atoll or islet. The journey itself then becomes the network or web that links these islets into a Oneness. It is a kind of working in reverse: knowing the goals, but not quite knowing their precise location. Only after the journey can the map be drawn and charted. (Interesting to note that my mother’s father was a surveyor and cartographer. I still have his fifty-year-old brass theodolite in the bottom of a trunk somewhere.) Often, I will leave those preliminary verses to sleep for a while, sometimes even several years. At times, the story is still unfulfilled, other times it is the image or the sonic work that the language is trying to accomplish that remains incomplete. Either way, it rests. Alone. Perhaps in a drawer, perhaps under a pile of papers, perhaps floating somewhere in a lost suitcase or a shoe box (as a wanderer I am continually packing and unpacking). When rediscovered, it finally evolves—or in some cases, sadly, devolves. One of the greatest pleasures is coming across this older work without any preconceptions and re-working the piece as if adding the final brushstrokes to a visual work of art. At times, the colors and textures are so much more obvious at this stage, and the final poem just slips right into place—as if it had intended to do that in the first place, but needed somehow to ripen. And, in those fortunate occasions, a certain spontaneity will arise whereby everything almost occurs simultaneously and you are even amazed yourself that the solution had not occurred earlier. So, in a sense, the initial work is to gather the colors, the sounds, the impressions; to place them into a space, a jug, a jar. Only when the fermentation is just right can you pour out that language alive in possibility. TB: Amanda Mitchell in the Yemassee Journal said that she found it “difficult not to regard Becoming the Sound of Bees with reverence, as it leaves one hushed and listening for humming over the hills.” She follows with: “This collection asks that we reexamine what we’ve placed upon our pedestals, what at any moment might crumble, what sort of legacy we will leave behind.” Tell us a little about how Becoming the Sound of Bees came about. MV: In my mind’s eye I conceived an environment that slowly became populated with “oddments and things”: rocks, fossils, shrubs, birds, a flotsam-strewn beach, a mountain range, a bank of vacillating clouds, the microcosm of a tree trunk or a patch of earth. These served as a kind of backbone from which the rest of the work branched out. The visualization of the landscape created the voices, the moving imagery. The characters moved in and out of the permafrost, of the snowflakes and the clouds. I simply watched them breathe their own life into the work. As a result, the dramatis personae began to evolve. These incarnate beings (no matter their base element), lead the conversations and, as a result the ensuing poems and the book took form. Plato said the world is divided into a world of being and a world of becoming. That Becoming was one of the inspirations for the book—and in many ways, set the initial stage. As the book came alive and began ordering itself the mythological world came into clearer focus. Much of the action takes place in or upon water, in rivers, oceans, along the seashore; in fact, the sea and her life-giving tides are a central metaphor in the book. TB: In John Tranter’s Journal of Poetic Works, Robert Archambeau intimated that your work may just be “…the emergence of a new poetic …,” that each previous collection is somehow linked or mirrors the previous collection. Was that your intention? MV: I am grateful to Bob for saying that. The books certainly do echo each other, following the longer path of those themes, images and sonics that were developed in those that came before. For the most part, while I am working on each collection (even if simultaneously), that particular body of work consumes my immediate attention. However, I do write books rather than individual poems—or rather, individual poems that are integral in the form of the book. TB: In Becoming the Sound of Bees, I was particularly taken with the poem “Continuum.” In that poem you appear to momentarily step away the Ivan narrative and inhabit some kind of a hive mind. It is displayed horizontally in the book itself, clearly differentiating itself from most of the other poems. Unfortunately we can’t display it as it appears in form, but here it is: We multiply best in open bodies with low mass indices warm and flock cluster and conjoin in dances mimeographed by mysterious natural forces undeciphered faithless phenomena but orbed ringed swerved or hooked collectors congestors of congenital immunity diplomatic border-busters eye upon unwavering eye one as many as many as one collectively as right to civilize diversity as right to arithmetic mutation towards adaptation towards conceptualization towards definition and tradition solidifying in constituents of a periodic table as yet uncompleted. They prisoners of a singular atomic vibration high mass index inclined confounded to expansion of the straight and narrow contrive through surfaces beyond the own layers in the closed exoskeletons of their own devising matter being matter being eye to eye too without critical observation nor mysterious compunction but for degenerative deconstruction that rubble may build rubble may build rubble again each succession wired into the value-chain of being and non-being that a creator may draw strings and each and every last one may last beyond the great oblivion at the end of all things. TB: Can you provide me / us with some kind of road map? How does it fit into the book and who are these souls that are talking to us? MV: I am going to return to Ernst Halter’s analogy here, and say that there are several atolls or islets in the book, the first being the opening epigraph from Louis Pasteur, “Life is the germ.” TB: The first poem in Becoming the Sound of Bees, which I believe serves as a kind of prologue, in the poem “Transmigration.” Do I sense a whiff of foreshadowing in the poem? It is certainly a striking introduction to the world of this book. Here are the last four stanzas: And when we emerge, some of us less than half the men we once knew, in one blinding flash, as dog greets master, that curious light comes running. And then, hovering for a split second, panting over a torn scrap of cloth, a flapping shoe sole, continues, right out the other side. MV: The book is undeniably about transformation, “becoming,” moving into a new form or state—much in line with the creatures we evolved from. And, yes, certainly a foreshadowing. TB: Of course, I have a special relationship with another of your recent books, This Wasted Land and Its Chymical Illuminations. Please talk about that. MV: As you well know, Tom, This Wasted Land, and Its Chymical Illuminations is very much a tip of the hat to Eliot and Pound. And, of course, the entire book is a finely tuned farce. The incipient idea, and I wouldn’t really call it that, as it came to me involuntarily, was to update Eliot’s work into a modern idiom. Of course, that is not what occurred at all. Although structurally similar to Eliot’s poem, This Wasted Land has an entirely different narrative. And yet, it does follow a similar arc—not thematically, but sonically. As the poem was getting closer to completion, you were developing the annotations. The sense we both had was this: how many lines of a single poem could refer to something else out of literature or history. And thus, somehow to show how random the referential process was / is, the wild and broad references. A line of poetry may be interpreted a multitude of ways, and yet, within a context it becomes something specific. I suppose, on some level, our goal was to prove how random that process is. Of course, everything is influenced by what came before it; of course, each piece of literature is interwoven with what came before—and yet, this “strain,” these “constraints” of academia—of willing something to be a part of something else—well, we just couldn’t resist. So, there you have it. A farce within a farce, nailed to the gossamer roots of academic empiricism. As to the annotations, in the words of the mysterious Sigfried Tolliot who wrote the afterword (the name popped into my head as I was working on the poem): “Displaying what can only be described as flippant disregard for intellectual rigor, Bradley has sunk alongside T. S. Eliot into ‘remarkable expositions of bogus scholarship.’” The goal, of course, was not necessarily to punch holes in modernism. Seriously, though, Tom, what is modernism anyway? Did not the Romans consider themselves modernists compared to the Greeks? TB: Yeah, but without the uppity whippersnappery of Pound and pals. What else are you working on at the moment? MV: I’ve been working on three different poetry collections: tentative titles are Unspeakable Desires, which is currently seeking a publisher, Something Stereophonic Unsettles the Breeze, which is nearing completion and 70 % Off, which is a poetic study of capitalism and consumerism. TB: Three collections simultaneously? How does that work? And, I’m sure you have other translation projects in the works too, right? MV: I have a fairly low boredom threshold, so I need to have several projects ongoing at the same time; and for the most part I’m always working on multiple books. I’ll write a poem, for example, that seems most appropriate for one of the books I’m herding together; then that poem will slip into that book; then I’ll write another which seems more appropriate for the second book. Of course, at times the individual poems may find themselves migrating elsewhere, but in principle that is how I work on the books simultaneously. And yes, I am also working on several translation projects at the moment—they also give me a break from the rigors of the blank page. TB: Can you tell us what Unspeakable Desires is about? MV: A little too early to pull the cat out of the bag entirely; the book is very much concerned with language, meaning, the nature of reality and an attempt to decipher it. There are many whisperings in this book. These “voices” and their own machinations and biases influence the central figure, Uncle Fernando, on his travails. His main companion and counterpart, Sibyl, is a muse or an oracle—or at least, he believes she is. The Muses, as you know, in the ancient Greek sense, were considered as the divine sources of knowledge, literature and myth: divine inspiration. And, as you probably also know, the oracles, the sibyls, spoke in mysterious riddles in the glossolalia of the gods. Here too, Fernando’s great dilemmas arise. I perceive the narrative as a weaving in and out of the conscious, subconscious and somewhere else in-between; perhaps more like the way we think; or, more specifically, the resonance of a palette of languages, images and sensations that we all retain somewhere in our memory-bank which resurface / emerge as we encounter the familiar or the almost-new: a non-linear phenomenon (that may include a multitude of voices, sounds or sensations) that shapes our responses and colors our views in the now. TB: Sounds fascinating. We would love to read one of these new poems from Unspeakable Desires. How about “Uncle Fernando’s Advice on Flyaway Hair”? MV: Okay, here it is: Have you taken note of the drift of your own South Sea Islands? Have you considered how long they’ve held their heads above the bruised coral reefs? and how long will the manta ray cast winged shadows? and do not forget those lonely fishermen with their whitebait and tin traps opening the can over and over until they have only scraps and scrapings, ink and paper on calluses, or depth charges that run wild where continental plates collide. Do the ghosts of their catches circle your boats in shoals as the gulls circling the city root deep in the landfill of another bygone era? Take note. Observe everything. One bird at a time. TB: Fabulous, Marc. I look forward to reading all these new poems in the book when it comes out. Thanks for this interview. About the interviewer: Tom Bradley’s latest book is Energeticum/Phantasticum, coming early this winter from MadHat Press. He has published twenty-five volumes of prose and poetry with houses in the USA, England, Canada and Japan. Further curiosity can be satisfied at tombradley.org.