Wednesday, February 27, 2013

In the Interview Room with Rauan Klassnik

I'm happy to introduce this occasional feature by interviewing of Rauan Klassnik, who was featured at The 5-2 in August 2012, and whose second book of prose poems, The Moon's Jaw, has just been published by Black Ocean. His first, Holy Land, came out in 2008. Rauan lives quietly in the Pacific Northwest.

Gerald So: How did you find The 5-2? Why did you decide to submit?

Rauan Klassnik: Your tweets referred me to The 5-2, which I enjoyed and then submitted to because, well, I thought I had material that was a good fit. (In fact you may have hintingly replied to one of my tweets saying something like that would be good material for a 5-2 poem. But maybe that's just an invented memory).

GS: No, I did. I find your poems full of visceral imagery and largely unpredictable, as if they come to you in stark flashes. Is this an accurate description of how they come to you?

RK: I think that's accurate as my mind, when creating, building, daydreaming, does sort of naturally move and progress in stark flashes. Sometimes these flashes (images and chunks of language) come nicely arranged into units that don't require any radical makeover but usually I do need to painstakingly enact, over many attempts, a major overhaul. A major overhaul of language, sound and polish, and of the images themselves. And here, in this revising, the options come again to me in stark flashes.

Suddenly inside the river all foam and rock. Birds drift up. Artillery smoke. Your hands around my throat. Mountains crumbling, and dogs howling to clot. I'm walking up through the snow. A dove's tail dipped in blood. An old man dying in peace. His dry, cracked mouth.

(Holy Land, 44)

GS: The first section of The Moon's Jaw is influenced by the concentration camp at Auschwitz. How did the place or the Holocaust inspire poetry?

RK: The first thing I thought of when I read this question was an image from All Quiet On The Western Front where a butterfly lands on a skull in the barbed wire wastelands between the trenches of WWI.

But, anyways, to write I often need a real spur, a real push. I have always been haunted by death, bad things, etc,, and I think it was a book on suicide (A. Alvarez) that introduced me to Tadeusz Borowski and his writing about his "experiences" in Auschwitz. Borowski's work (This Way For The Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, and We Were in Auschwitz, which also included contributions by Krystyn Olszewski and Janusz Nel Siedlecki) was a revelation for me. One of the poems from The Moon's Jaw's first section is basically a reduction of Borowski's short story "Supper Time":

& now, some lined up ghosts—Behind each a soldier (SS, of course) w/ a gun in his cold white hands. & they've kneeled them down now. Heads arched forward. (Shadows, Twisting&Into, Each, Other. Grinding&Starved. & Blue. Crawled—Up, Out, Of, a Pit. Whining. & Trembling.) & they've fired up thru their heads. Brains—Splattered—All over the pavement. That’s how we're fed.

(The Moon's Jaw, 4)

Much of the horror of the Holocaust, I think, lies not in just how the Nazi perpetrators acted but also in how the victims reacted: what men and women were capable of under the most extreme pressures. Predictably (because, sadly, it's all predictable) some folded, committed suicide. Others turned to debauchery. Some were brave, selfless and heroic. Others sold their bodies. Others were "crematorium vultures" who traded in gold teeth and eagerly waited for the trains, shower cleanups, etc.

GS: Why write about crime as opposed to other subjects?

RK: Well, I do write about other things besides crime but it's said (and I agree) that you should write to your obsessions and I guess I just have a creative taste for darker subjects. I'm not of course alone in this. There are, for example, TV shows devoted entirely to True Crime stories. And some cultures are even more bent to this obsession than ours is. I lived, for example, in Mexico for six years and every morning when I walked into the main downtown plaza I was met with stacks of tabloid papers on the covers of which, invariably, were ghastly color photos of murder and suicide victims. Decomposing corpses found months after the fact, etc, etc. The bloodier and more ghastly the better, it seemed.

——Paws Outstretched——Gray As A Pile Of Rubbish——
——Too Bright To Lick——The Wind——Thru The Statues——
——Grows Rarer & Rarer——Broken Clanging——
——Glinting Quickening——An Orchard——Of Flowers——

(The Moon's Jaw, 25)

Why are people, some people, so fascinated by crime, death, violence, gore? The answer’s obvious of course. Life and death, good and bad, safety and danger, are intertwined dance partners moving interminably through the ruts of Time. You can shy away from darker and more grisly aspects. Or you can gravitate towards them.

GS: Whose poetry, if any, is the biggest influence on your own?

RK: There are so many great poets that I’ve really loved and who I am sure have exerted influence on my work. And I’ll name some here:

Sylvia Plath, Aase Berg, Paul Muldoon, Gary Young, Robert Penn Warren, Catullus, Pablo Neruda, Seamus Heaney (his own work and also his Beowulf translation), Dylan Thomas, Anne Carson, etc.

But, probably Ted Hughes is the biggest influence. I came to his work in my late teens and thrilled immediately to his dark subjects, grim and unsugared outlook, and his Crow creation poems. I also was dazzled by his dark, muscular and grotesque verbal constructions.

My thanks again to Rauan. If you are a Lineup or 5-2 contributor and would like to be interviewed, email G_SO at YAHOO dot COM.

And now a look at the book trailer for
The Moon's Jaw, which Rauan warns is explicit and violent:

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