Welcome to Terspischore’s Atrium, where the Hermeneutic Chaos editors find delight in the elfin task of confronting their contributing authors with some really tough questions.
Today, our Editor-in-Chief Shinjini Bhattacharjee interviews the amazing Alessandra Bava, who contributed three ingeniously crafted poems to Issue 3. She is the author of critically acclaimed chapbooks They Talk About Death (winner of the Blood Pudding Press chapbook competition in 2014) and Diagnosis, published by Dancing Girl Press, which will publish another chapbook penned by her titled Love and Other Demons next year. She is also the author of two bilingual chapbooks Guerrilla Blues (2012) and Nocturne (2013) both published in Italy. Her poems have been published, or are forthcoming in Menacing Hedge, THRUSH Poetry Journal, Cease, Cows, and Gargoyle, among others. She is also a prolific translator, and has edited and translated an anthology of contemporary American poets, Nuova Antologia di Poesia Americana, that will be published by Edizioni Ensemble later this year.
We request you to spend time with her poems here, and then return to enjoy the interview.
1. The poems ‘Incubus’, ‘The Nest’ and ‘I am Disintegration’ (published in Issue 3 of Hermeneutic Chaos) present poetry as a process fraught with both an “anxiety of influence” as well as an “anxiety of audience”, for the words that compose them constantly struggle to find an identity of their own. Could you tell us about your decision to make the poems chart such a vulnerable path?
I try to give my words a precise identity, but they have to speak for themselves and for me, the poet, as well. I look at my poems, and ultimately at my words, as something I have given life to. They must learn to walk around the world using all the strength I have provided them with. The path may be vulnerable, but I have given them legs and a backbone.
2. One of the most astonishingly brilliant aspects of these poems is their use of all the sensory manifestations of experience, and not merely the visual, that is usually the dominant mode of description. How do you think can writers hold the disparate interpretations of all these senses together in their work?
I totally enjoy pushing the perception boundaries in my poems. I want my poems to be physical, much like Whitman when he states: “who touches this touches a man.” This is why the visual elements are not the only ones at play. In “The Nest,” that was published in Hermeneutic Chaos, I play with hearing (a nest that beats like a heart or an egg that is about to crack) and with touch (claws inscribing the heart). As my fellow poet Marco Cinque states, “the poem is a living thing.” I agree wholeheartedly with him. And, this is precisely why I like to use all the five senses in my poetry.
3. Though you were born in Rome, you spent your youth abroad attending various American and International schools that fostered your love for literature in English. And this exposure has enabled you to both write poetry in English and also translate poems written in English by various authors. How do you encounter the cultural and literary diaspora in your work?
I look at it as a unique privilege. Being able to write in English or to translate from English into my mother tongue is a an incredible opportunity. I often feel I am two different persons. Switching from a language to the other is a fascinating process. When I write and communicate in English I believe I am terser, whereas Italian allows me to be more exuberant.
4. Your poems accumulate intense imageries that transcend their descriptions by engaging with the activity of the texts. How much has Roman art inspired you?
Imagery has a lead role in my personal and artistic life. Being born in Rome, a city surrounded by work of arts and beauty, has certainly made me more art-oriented or art-driven. Baroque art has certainly influenced a lot of my imagination, triggering the accumulation process and the attention to the depictive quality of words.
5. Your chapbook They Talk About Death published by Blood Pudding Press is a stunning piece of work that beautifully manages to engage in a necessary conversation with writers such as Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Rimbaud in the space offered by the poems. How do you think would these writers try to resurrect themselves in the 21st century?
When I wrote the poems in this chapbook, I was so focused on these poets’ deaths that I have actually not really thought about their possible resurrection. I believe Plath and Sexton would most likely resurrect themselves as Lady Lazarus. Could they get rid of their bloodied bandages, they would be re-born as writing phoenixes. We would certainly benefit from more of their words. Rimbaud was certainly not meant to be just a poet. He was a restless man and a rebel soul, so he would probably resurrect as a wanderer, a modern troubadour. Or, a rock star.
6. Your second chapbook Diagnosis has recently been published by dancing girl press and has met with numerous enthusiastic positive responses. Congratulations!
Do you see poetry as a diagnosis or a prognosis, or something in between?
Thank you! The poem that gives the title to Diagnosis plays around the idea that we poets are so to say “insane” and that there’s always someone ready to diagnose us with “Poetry.” If poetry is an illness or a mania, I can’t tell. I’m glad I suffer from it! It’s a path I need to follow. And, I’ve a totem animal guiding me along this path in this chapbook: a hare.
7. Who are your favorite poets? Where do you like to converse with them?
I’ve many favorite poets. Sexton and Plath. Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva. Rimbaud and Baudelaire. Dante and Pasolini. Among the living poets Jack Hirschman, fourth Poet Laureate of San Francisco, holds a special place in my heart. I’m currently writing his biography. Whenever he’s in Italy we get a chance to meet and talk. He’s a tremendous poet and, when I talk to him, I learn so much about his life and the poets and writers he has met during his life, from Ferlinghetti to Ginsberg, from Creeley to Corso, from Bukowski to Anaïs Nin. He is such a jovial and intellectually stimulating man. It’s a joy to converse with him! Then there’s Patti Smith. She’s not only an awesome song-writer. She’s a poet and a wordsmith. And, I greatly admire her work.
My favorite place to “converse” with poets is the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. It’s an idyllic place. We’re lucky to have the tombs of so many excellent poets there: Percy B. Shelley, John Keats, Gregory Corso and Amelia Rosselli, an Italian woman poet who committed suicide on 11th February, same day as Plath. It’s an inspiring place. I often go there to write.
8. What are you writing now? Where do you think will it carry you as a poet and a reader?
I’ve honestly translated more than written poetry, lately. But, I’ve two chapbooks I’m working on at present. The former is inspired by Diane Arbus’s photographs, the latter by poets who spent part of their life in asylums. And, I’m definitely ready to resume working on Hirschman’s biography, that I’d love to complete by 2015.
Writing both poetry and non-fiction is challenging and fascinating. It’s making me grow as a writer and a reader at the same time. Poetry makes me strive for brevity in non-fiction, whereas non-fiction helps me use poems as tales of my soul.