Friday, January 11, 2008

12 or 20 questions: with Rosmarie Waldrop
Rosmarie Waldrop was born in Kitzingen am Main, Germany, in 1935. At age 10 she spent half a year acting with a traveling theater, but was happy when schools reopened and she could settle for the quieter pleasures of reading and writing which she has since pursued in and out of universities (Würzburg, Freiburg, Aix-Marseille and Michigan, Ph.D., 1966), in several countries, but mostly in Providence, RI where she lives with Keith Waldrop (with whom she also co-edits Burning Deck Press).

She taught at Wesleyan University and, as occasional visitor, at Tufts and Brown.

The linguistic displacement from German to English has not only made her into a translator, but gave her a sense of writing as exploration of what happens between. Between words, sentences, people, cultures.

Books of poetry include the trilogy Curves to the Apple (The Reproduction of Profiles, Lawn of Excluded Middle and Reluctant Gravities), Blindsight, and A Key Into the Language of America (all from New Directions), Love, Like Pronouns (Omnidawn), Another Language: Selected Poems (Talisman House), Split Infinites (Singing Horse Press). Her collected essays, Dissonance (if you are interested), was published by University of Alabama Press in Fall 2005.

Her two novels, The Hanky of Pippin’s Daughter and A Form/of Taking/It All (originally published by Station Hill) are available in one paperback (Northwestern UP).

She has translated 14 volumes of Edmond Jabès's work (The Book of Questions, The Book of Resemblances, etc.). Her memoir/study, Lavish Absence: Recalling and Rereading Edmond Jabès, was published by Wesleyan University Press. She has also translated, from the French, Jacques Roubaud (most recently, with Keith Waldrop, The Form of a City Changes Faster, Alas, Than the Human Heart (Dalkey Archive) and Emmanuel Hocquard; from the German, Friederike Mayröcker, Elke Erb, Oskar Pastior, Gerhard Rühm, Ulf Stolterfoht, and others.

[Photo by Renate von Mangoldt]

1 - How did your first book change your life?

The fact that THE AGGRESSIVE WAYS OF THE CASUAL STRANGER was published alleviated my insecurity, at least socially. It made it easier to say, I'm a poet.

2 - How long have you lived in Providence, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

that's a lot of questions masquerading as one.
I've lived in Providence for 40 years, but I still feel BETWEEN as the poem with that title in my first book stated:

I'm not quite at home
on either side of the Atlantic.

Since then I've translated much Edmond Jabès and have come to agree with him that a writer's only real place is in her books. Of course we're both expatriates! I know many writers are strongly rooted in a landscape.

Gender is something we don't get away from, because we write from our body. If I may quote another poem:

A poem
like trying
to remember, is a movement
of the whole body. ("The Ambition of Ghosts" in STREETS ENOUGH TO WELCOME SNOW)

The fact that I am a woman clearly shapes my writing: thematically, in attitude, in awareness of social conditioning, marginality—but does not determine it exclusively. The writer, male or female, is only one partner in the process of writing. Language, in its full range, is the other, and is beyond gender. In spite of Lacan's attempt at appropriation and in spite of our language declaring that "man" means human being. The language a poet enters into belongs as much to the mothers as to the fathers.

3 - Where does a poem or piece of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

Usually a phrase. I write few single poems any more. Sometimes sequences start with a single poem and grow, other times I begin with a matrix for a whole book (like the time I used Anne-Marie Albiach's book ETAT, or rather its grammatical structure.)

4 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

They are a sounding board that can make me hear problems I hadn't noticed while working by myself.

5 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

I don't think poems are there to answer questions. I've worked much from Wittgenstein and, more recently, Agamben, but always using them for the purposes of the poem. As Whitehead says, "the primary function of a proposition is to be relevant as a lure for feeling.”
More precisely, I'm mostly exploring syntax rather than vocabulary or images.

6 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Depends. I usually appreciate the new perspective and what I can learn from it.

7 - After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

All writing is hard. If anything it has been getting harder.

8 - When was the last time you ate a pear?

Do I dare to eat a pear? I mostly opt for cheese instead.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Can't think of anything--I suppose that means I don't listen to advice!

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?

I write mostly prose poems now. I suppose that means settling in the between-genres. The prose paragraph has a spaciousness where form can prove “a center around which, not a box within which” (Ezra Pound). Or as Emily Dickinson wrote in a letter: "Moving on in the Dark like Loaded Boats at Night, though there is no Course, there is Boundlessness." I love this "though!"

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I always WANT to have a writing routine, but I never manage to.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?


13 - How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

Every book feels completely different to me. When I put a Selected Poems together I was surprised (and rather relieved) to see how much continuity there actually is in my work.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

McFadden is right. Music used to be a big factor for me. Poems used to start with a rhythm, but much less so now. What science I've used of course came from books too.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

This should be a HUGE list. But let's say, some writers I keep going back to: Kafka, Musil, Dickinson, Pound, Rilke, Oppen, Wittgenstein, Merleau-Ponty, Queneau, W.G.Sebald, Yoel Hoffmann, Lyn Hejinian, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Marjorie Welish, Guy Davenport, and of course Keith Waldrop.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

A musician.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

Books were always my world.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

20 - What are you currently working on?

Poems that work with a vocabulary derived from the definitions of certain key words. Reading books about the brain with the hope that this will lead to poems. Translating younger German poets for a magazine issue of Burning Deck's "Dichten=" series. Typesetting the next Burning Deck book: DWELLING by Heather C. Akerberg.

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