Wednesday, March 13, 2013

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Erik Lindner

Erik Lindner (photo credit: © has published four books of poetry in his native Dutch: Tramontane (Perdu, 1996), tong en trede (‘Tongue and step, De Bezige Bij 2000), Tafel (‘Table’, De Bezige Bij, 2004) and Terrein (Terrein, De Bezige Bij, 2010). One book has appeared translated into French, published by the poetry Centre of Marseille in 2007. He has traveled to Taiwan, Canada, and several countries in Europe, made live-reports for the Dutch radio and has worked as a teacher of creative writing at the Rietveld Amsterdam Art Academy. In 2012 he was a stipendiate of the D.A.A.D. in Berlin. He lives as a freelance writer and edits the review journals Terras ( and De revisor ( Poetry International in Rotterdam ( frequently publishes his reviews on books, translations and travels. In September 2013 De Bezige Bij in Amsterdam will publish his first novel.

A chapbook, Two Dutch Poets: Hélène Gelèns and Erik Lindner, with translations into English by Anita Dolman, has just appeared with above/ground press.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Pretty much. Although the first was with a small press, it changed everything, even where I lived and what I thought about. I think my most recent collection Terrain is more in balance in the order of the poems than the previous ones. It is more a book.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I thought I was writing song-texts, but I totally can’t sing. Don’t let me try.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I really don’t know what a project is when it comes to writing. I have these notes that usually turn out to be half a line in a poem. And when I have a line I always think: this is a good second line for a poem. And than it can take ages before I have a first line. Notes can come quickly, but I have to stay focused, wanting to see and discover something. Taking the notes together is a question of the idea: yes now I have substantially enough for a poem, or also the wish to know how the notes will look like in the poem. Sometimes I like these notes and want to do something with them, that helps.

Than again, Pavese wrote about a province, that I always pictured as a sort of field. You ruin the field by taking all the flowers and plants out for your poems. And than you cross a hedge to another province, that is supposed to be a new book. And the last poems you made on the previous field, almost unconscious and a bit sleepy, turn out to be the best. I don’t know if that is true, I just like the thought.

4 - Where does a poem 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?
Short pieces, yes. But there must be a connection between them. Some readers think it is a set of images, but I have a narrative line or logical replacement of situations. Often the first or second new poem after finishing a manuscript can be crucial for the book that follows. It is like you are free of luggage and immediately start loading again.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Doing public readings is a clear job. You have to be there at that time and read a number of poems. In writing nothing is clear, you never know when the good text is produced. I have been doing readings since I was 17, in 1985. But it would be bad to think:  I am having this reading, let’s make a new poem quickly. I couldn't work like that.

6 - 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?
Theory is my weak spot, but when you continue to write and read for a longer time you see patterns and you recognize things in the work of others. Since my second book, the word ‘Acedia’ is part of the titles of the poems, mostly in series. I took that from Walter Benjamin notes on history, when he describes the impossibility to get a clear image of a period in the past forgetting all that came after. I sort of connect that in my longing for clear images. In the end in all these series two figures appear that are more in each other imagination than in real existence. Apart from an image of history it is the landscape or the map of a city that is important. I am not answering your question now. I have to be vague about it. It is more and more about the perspective, any poem, any observation. That isn’t theory, but there is theory about it.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I just came back from Germany where the writer, even a poet, seems to have a function outside of a poetry scene. I could write for newspapers, talk with people about work who are not insiders. In the Netherlands it seems more like a cult, one is known as a poet in a poetry scene. It seems Germans take their writers more serious, perhaps they are also more serious. So it is easier there for me, because than I can be a little clownish, even as an earnest poet. And it is a bigger country with less poets, that gives some space.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential, yes. More in prose than in poetry of course. Difficult too. I am with the largest, I know they are very good but have little time to know all the books from beginning to the end of all their writers. You always have to keep it in your own hands, no matter how good your editor is.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
”Never auto-position yourself.” (W.N. Herbert) Be sensitive and also a bit careless, stay alert.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
Until 2000: writing from 16:00 until 20:00, no social life. Since than, writing in the morning, until the beginning in the afternoon. If you are concentrated you can do a lot in little time.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Very old-fashioned strolling down the street and keeping the good eye open. what you focus on also tells you what is on your mind. This is of course easier when you travel than at home.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Salt. I mean place of birth: the seaside.

13 - 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?
Visual arts, yes, a lot. I never go to modern dance, but I say a video-installation in the Stedelijk Museum of a piece of Hans van Maanen, and the duet was exactly what I wanted in the first Acedia-serie. Nature, yes, as an element but not an influence. For example: John Baldessari made these kitchy photos of the coast of California. But the perspective was never normal, to close by or too far away. And he hung them in the inside of the windows of a galerie in Germany, such a typical Bauhaus-building. And the outside of the windows he put prints of bricks. And the white inside of the gallery became wallpaper of brown Bricks. So he turned this Mies von der Rohe-building into a Guantanamo Beach, as he called it. So what I did is describing these full colour pictures as windows where you tumble through and fall into the garden outside, because either the waves at the beginning of the shore are to sharp, or the surfers in the far. So the pictures are not right, they make you fall. That has been a clear method, for once. I am triggered by visual errors. Artists can provide them, but also the plain reality can provide them. There is no hierarchy between them, I just take what I can use. When I was in Ottawa in 2005 for the Writersfest, Sheila Heti compared some poem with Morandi. It was a far too big compliment, I was very touched by that.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Contemporary poets, mainly abroad. People you meet and try to read and translate or let to be translated. My aim is very international, I am all the time trying to break out of the Netherlands, but I always return.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Write not one novel but five. Live in Buenos Aires. Perhaps that is a bad idea, I have never been there. Go to Toronto, never seen the place. I must say I have been lucky in being able to travel a lot with my work, I just want to continue.

16 - 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?
”I wanted to be a postman. Such things happen.” That is a line from János Pilinszky, the Hungarian poet. True, I imagined going up the mountain on an old bike bringing people letters, in Switzerland. But seriously I am writing poetry because I am no good for anything else. It’s just an excuse not to have to work.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
No real musical feeling apart from poetry, not a steady hand at drawing. My father has been a journalist with a strange sense of language, a bit comical and unusual. And my grandmother was from Wales and she was allready reading to me when she took care of me.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Het boek Ont by Anton Valens. Hilarious. A group of boys who don’t dare to open their mail. So they start a sort of working group, very therapeutic, to help to open each other letters. It is in fact not about their mails, but about their lives, to sensitive for society. It is a Dutch thing, but Valens makes this life in the eighties up in the north very ultraclear by a slight exaggeration. It is how he uses the language. I love cinema, but I haven’t seen a good film for a while, mostly some German art-movies to get to know the enviroment, nothing special.

19 - What are you currently working on?
Finishing the first novel, I have just a few weeks. I mean it is finished, but there are some small changes made on behalf of the editor that don’t feel good, so I have to undo them and think of another version. I have been working almost three years on this book. Than there is a poem, ‘Back to Acedia’, with notes from Berlin street life, that is a lot like the earlier Acedia-series, but with more slapstick in the movements. That’s only because people do these silly things on the streets, embracing closed parasols and so on, I can’t help it.

[Erik Lindner reads in Ottawa on Sunday, March 17, 2013 as part of the third annual VERSeFest]

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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