Sunday, June 28, 2009

12 or 20 questions: with Oana Avasilichioaei

Oana Avasilichioaei is a poet and translator who, after exploring the territories of Eastern Europe in Abandon (Wolsak & Wynn, 2005), transformed the landscape of Vancouver’s Hastings Park into feria: a poempark (Wolsak & Wynn, 2008). She has translated Nichita Stănescu from Romanian, published as Occupational Sickness (BuschekBooks, 2006), Louise Cotnoir and Geneviève Desrosiers from French, and has performed her work in Canada, USA, Mexico and Europe. She was the founder and curator of the Atwater Poetry Project reading series from 2004 to 2009. A collaborative work with Erín Moure, involving authorial and translational impossibilities, will appear as Expeditions of a Chimæra fall 2009 (BookThug). She lives in Montreal.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

The publishing of the first book had a tremendous impact. Firstly, the book as object is an absolute public form and so it was enormously gratifying (and intimidating) to hold this object which I had created but which now stood apart from me and which would have a path of its own independent of me. Also the act of publishing a first book gives a burgeoning writer public legitimacy, including of course among other writers, editors, publishers. It felt as though now I had now officially entered into a club. It lead to readings, talks and eventually to actually being invited to submit work or read at festivals or other kind of public activities that writers do.

Every book (two are in print, the third, which is a collaborative endevour with Erin Moure, will be published this fall, and the fourth is almost completed) has felt very different, for the projects were different and the forms being explored likewise very different. I have found that part of working on a book is discovering what the book wants to be, how it wants me to get there and how I need to adapt my working process to make it come into being. But to give you an example, Abandon (the first book) explored the territories of Eastern Europe and was concerned in part with various voices of people in those landscapes, whereas the second book, feria: a poempark, used a Canadian public space, a particular park in Vancouver, as a palimsest and was more architectural in nature, concerned with the physicality of a landscape that sustains much change over time, and less concerned with people or characters. There are no individual voices per say in feria, rather the echoes of collective voices.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

Because the very first lines that came into my head when I begun writing around the age of sixteen were lines, were short, dense, focused islands of meaning and not whole imagined worlds or stories or characters. Though I am greatly interested in ideas of narrative and story, I love the density and brevity of poetry; using the barest minimum to say the most possible. Poetry creates avenues of thinking, like philosophy, whereas fiction creates small universes, and I am, at the moment, more interested in exploring those paths of thinking than constructing a universe.

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?

In terms of the project as a whole, I have so far found that my writing projects tend to overlap a bit. For example, though my focus at the moment is on this fourth book, I have the smattering possibilities for a future project, for which I have already written a number of poems. But in terms of the poems themselves, or the sequences, it really varies. Sometimes a beginning draft is quite close to a finished draft, but most often it is vastly different. Because I have recently been focusing more on the long poem form, the poem tends to evolve more and more with each draft. Not linearly, more like the ripples of a pebble thrown in water, each ripple growing bigger, distancing farther and farther from the beginning point.

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?

I definitely work more on “books,” because I find it enriching and worthwhile to explore certain concerns or thematics in depth, perhaps to construct some of that novelistic universe I mentioned earlier, but not in a linear, consistent form. This is not to say that I am immediately aware that the initial forays into a new territory will end up being something that could grow into book form. But if the foray continues and gets a hold of me and if it begins to generate ideas that are “larger” than an individual poem, then I begin to think in terms of a possible “book.”

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

Definitely part of my creative process, and I imagine that it is still growing and could become even crucial or inseparable from the process for a future project. I have always been interested in the orality of poetry, and this has become even more important in the project I am currently working on. And I am curious about how one transfers a performance on the page to a performance on the stage, for those are very different sort of territories which require very different kinds of attention. That transference is a kind of translation and I do approach “readings” as performances, where I feel I need to learn how to “perform” a poem and where I learn a great deal about the work from the feeling I get from the audience response.

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?

Oh sure. Questions and curiosity are what drives the writing always, though the questions vary a great deal with each project. Some of my fascinations (or obsessions) include considering how we compose histories, the roles of pronouns, and considering architectures, including the architecture of the page, and their affect on lives and on language. Some of the current questions include: How can I build some bridges between the written and the oral? How do we know/take in a landscape? How do we know figures in a landscape? How do we think of animals? What does it mean to be animal/body and producer of language/logos?

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?

Like I mentioned earlier, I do see poetry as provoking thought, like philosophy, so that is part of the writer’s role: to keep language vigorous and open up possibilities for thought. Living in a time when we are flooded by language, much of which is endlessly repeated (for example the language of advertising or the language of “the war on terror”) I do think writers, and other linguistic, artistic or cultural producers, have a responsibility to keep pushing the boundaries of language, of what is possible in language, so that we do not become stilted in our patterns of thinking and therefore in our ways of assimilating our environments and consequently reproducing those environments.

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

I don’t find it difficult, rather engaging and thought-provoking, and I do think it is quite important for it can help make a work stronger. Having no outside input before making a work public doesn’t make much sense to me. It is very easy for any one who does any kind of creative work to fall into patterns, develop certain habits, which are not necessarily equally beneficial for every type of project, but the person may rely on those habits unconsciously. I believe that some outside input can help spot some of those places where the writing is relying on habit rather than what the particular moment or line demands.

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

Go home and write some more.

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

Translating and writing are part of the same creative spectrum for me. And it’s not even a question of ease, rather a question of necessity. Writing is already a translational act, for to create a line I have to translate my environment, my thoughts, my senses into this thing we call language. So to then translate across languages seems to naturally follow. Also, we are now more than ever each living in spaces crisscrossed by many languages, cultures and products. To walk out on my front street means to hear many languages spoken, means to go to the Polish deli or the French bistro or the Italian café down the street. These spaces are not as separated as they used to be, even compared to a decade or two ago. So it seems to me that the act of translation has become part of our daily life. This change is tremendous and I believe has a tremendous impact on how we think and act and behave, so I am greatly curious to consider and explore this impact and to write/translate out of it.

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?

It varies, for my schedule is not very stable and depends also if I am traveling or not. But ideally, I try and spend a couple of hours working on writing (either reading, generating work or editing) in the morning, then do some translation work, then go for a swim or see a friend in the afternoon (get out of the house), then try and do some more work, either writing or translation if the evening is open. Sometimes, in the evenings I read and work in my partner’s studio (he’s a visual artist).

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

Typically, I read. I read something that relates to the writing I am trying to do in some lateral way (and this could be other poetry, fiction, essays, philosophy, etc., in English and in other languages). Sometimes visual art or sound recordings are inspiring. Also, going somewhere in “nature,” some place where there is soil and green life growing, can act as catalyst.

13 - What was your most recent Hallowe'en costume?

I must admit that sometimes, for one reason or another I miss Hallowe’en. But one of the most memorable costumes in recent years was when my boyfriend and I (and it was his idea) went to a party in the guise of being wrapped by Christo and Jeanne-Claude (visual artists who have done a great deal of large land art projects, including wrapping the Reichstag in Berlin).

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?

Certainly, particularly nature and visual art. And more recently perhaps, the performing arts: performance, theatre or dance.

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

This is vast and there are many and they evolve and change as the work evolves as well. But to list a few poets and philosophers who have been important to my writing and thinking in recent years, they would include: Paul Celan, César Vallejo (Peruvian poet), Lisa Robertson, Myung Mi Kim (American poet), Giorgio Agamben (Italian philosopher), Walter Benjamin. And some writers who are also friends and with whom I have many conversations and exchange writing include Mark Goldstein, Erín Moure, Angela Carr, Michael Turner.

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

Travel to every continent in the world, but hopefully I have many years left to try and do this.

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?

Perhaps a dancer.

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

It was not a choice I made over night; writing developed into a practice gradually. Initially I felt compelled to do it; I loved and felt challenged by language. And later, though I explored some of the other arts, I came to think that writing seemed the place in which, given whatever natural abilities I may have and whatever tools I would learn, I could explore ideas in greatest depth with the most craft.

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

20 - What are you currently working on?

I am writing a book about a wolfbat, a tyrant and a child. They are imagined and impossible tales, entangling the language of fairytales and folktales. For a sample, go to

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