Interview with Donika Kelly

Interview with Donika Kelly

I admire that in your poem, “A Poem to Remind Myself of the Natural Order of Things,” we aren’t quite sure who—or, I suppose “what”—the you is until the sixth line. I’m curious about why you structured the poem this way—why the “you” is examined before the reader is even sure what we are looking at?

I’ve been having lots of spontaneous conversations about octopuses (octopi? the octopus?) in the last few weeks, probably because when anyone mentions an octopus, I, like a 2nd grader armed with some facts, am eager to put what I know on the table. At any rate, a number of people have articulated an idea that the octopus is the closest thing we’ll get to an alien consciousness on Earth because they are so different from humans. This strikes me as odd—that a species native to the planet would be considered alien because its intelligence developed along a different line than our species, because it is so different from us. In a Western, Judeo-Christian framework, the world is scaled to the human as ideal, and that’s strange to me.

Interview with Hanif Abdurraqib

Interview with Hanif Abdurraqib

I’m very interested in your use of persona for your “Ghost of Marvin Gaye” series. How did your exploration of Gaye’s persona come about?

I found myself very interested in the afterlife of Gaye, and the way his particular type of death could lead to a set of unanswered questions in whatever the afterlife might look like. I was interested in kind of picking through those questions and trying to unravel them bit by bit. Marvin Gaye is so layered and complex, but it often feels like there's only room for one or two projections of him in the discussion. I wanted to place his ghost in the modern day, in hopes that I could shorten some distance between him and his many narratives.

Interview with Randall Mann

Interview with Randall Mann

Your poem in our new issue is an elegy for Michelle Boisseau, a poet we both admired a great deal, who died last fall of cancer. I remember her as fiercely smart and funny, warm and generous, and yet about as unsentimental as you can get. How did you know her, and what did she mean to you over the years?

I was drawn to Michelle the minute I met her, in a workshop in the mid-nineties. It was full of groaning male energy, and she was wry and funny and circumspect and female, and I was a young queer writer, seduced by surface but wildly unsure—so she was exactly the person I needed. I turned in a poem called "The Elements," and she said, with a serious half-smile, great, but where are the elements in this poem? She had a point. She took the piss out of poetry. She was also, and without pretension, always, always the smartest person in the room, the warmest and the coolest. I think I knew she was someone worth knowing, worth keeping, so we struck up a friendship that lasted over 20 years. I loved her very much, and I can hardly believe she’s gone; I don’t know what else to say.

Interview with Ross Simonini

Interview with Ross Simonini

First off, I just want to say that I’m a fan of The Book of Formation and the interviews you edit over at The Believer. In particular, I love the Gordon Lish interview from back in January 2009, and how Lish is interviewed in letter-form. Although you didn’t conduct that particular interview, this premise of genre mixing is evident in The Book of Formation in the sense that it’s told in both prose and interviews. In what ways did your work as an interviews editor and as someone who regularly conducts interviews influence this approach taken in your novel? What else influenced the novel’s form?

Conversation is the majority of language around us all the time. So it’s a little surprising to me that more people don’t write books in dialogue. I mean, that’s the language we know best. It’s not like we walk around narrating our lives, like novels. We talk and hear other people talking, and that’s the work that words are doing for us in our lives.

Interview with Mikko Harvey

Interview with Mikko Harvey

One of the qualities I admire so much about your poems is how they will introduce a seemingly familiar situation or term which will then be used in a way that is totally unfamiliar to the reader.  You have a bird calling association that turns sublimely murderous, a kid who dislikes cats who then pulls a dead one from his backpack, and so on. In your poem that we published, “There Go Gordon’s Goats,” we are maybe expecting from the title that we’ll be taking a look at British labor party politics, but instead it seems there are literal goats, and a missing son. What drives you to make these sort of strange, but pleasurable, misdirections?

I think all poets, in different ways, are seeking surprise. There are infinite ways to get there. My way, well, yeah—it’s telling that you use the words “strange” and “murderous.” I don’t set out to write dark poems and I don’t consider myself a morbid person. But a certain level of danger does seem to be a feature of the climate where my imagination is able to live. 

Interview with Scott Hutchins

Interview with Scott Hutchins

Given that you’re from Arkansas, I was hoping we could start with you talking a bit about the setting of “Animals is Family” and any personal connection you might have to it. What drew you to return to Arkansas for this story?

The truth is that the most outlandish parts of this story really happened. I went to a bar named T-Bo’s in Camden, Arkansas, with my new stepbrother, who’d recently gotten out of the Army. There was in fact a female mountain lion loose in the bar.

Interview with Kelly Luce and Russell Podgorsek

Interview with Kelly Luce and Russell Podgorsek

Two of Swords Counterpoint” is unusual in that it is accompanied by a musical arrangement. Could you talk a bit about how this project came to be?

Kelly Luce: Russell Podgorsek, the composer, and I met in Austin a couple years ago when he wrote a piece of music to accompany a flash fiction piece of mine for NANO Fiction's Sehr Flash issue...Russell and I stayed in touch and decided to collaborate again. I'd had the idea for a story about a woman unearthing an unlikely piece of music—a concerto for viola—for a while, but didn't know where to go with it. Russell encouraged me to get dramatic, which helped me loosen up and play around. I have a tendency to be too subtle in early drafts.  

Interview with Alice Inggs

Interview with Alice Inggs

One of the striking features of your translations of Nathan Trantraal’s verse is the use of dialect. What is your process for translating not just the meaning, but also the sense and sound of Trantraal’s poetry into English?

This was one of the most interesting aspects of translating this poetry. Nathan writes in the vernacular or “Kaaps” dialect, a variant of Afrikaans spoken almost exclusively on the Cape Peninsula in the Western Cape province of South Africa. He uses phonetic spelling for the most part, and, as there is no official Kaaps dictionary, there are no set “rules” (contrasting with “standard Afrikaans”). My first draft was a “straight” translation using conventional English spelling and grammar. The translation was technically correct, but the meaning and impression the originals conveyed was totally lost.