Susan de Sola on remnants, translation, formby Anna Lena Phillips, Susan de Sola • 03.13.2012
Three of Susan de Sola’s poems appear in Fringe’s REMNANTS issue this week. Poetry editor Anna Lena Phillips asked her by email about her work. Read on for her replies—and don’t miss the binary round at the end, where all is revealed (in the either-or sense).
When you think of remnants, what’s the first poem or poet that comes to mind?
T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land: “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.” The 20th-century moderns had an intense, often desperate relationship to the remnant. A modern master of the remnant is James Joyce. It is a theme that often attracts me. My most recent poem, “Cedar Closet,” is a blank-verse poem about the leavings of a 1940s wardrobe and its secrets.
“Old Newsreel (Dallas, 1963)” has lines of varying length, but a metrical current runs through the poem. How do you approach writing poems that engage with meter (not to mention have a rich and quirky sense of rhyme) but do not hew to set line length or exacting rhyme scheme?
I write both metrical and nonmetrical poems. I think rhyme can be used expressively in looser verse forms. The ghost of a tetrameter beat and the rhyme are meant to emphasize the repetitive respooling of old newsreels. These films have aged badly, and in none have the colors remained “true.” The very fragility even of “modern” technology is part of the larger sense of loss, the “washed-out course” of years. The unspoken subtext is the Kennedy assassination. The poet Dee Cohen pointed out to me that the fractured lines and the ghost of form in this poem convey both radical rupture and the elegiac.
You also translate poetry from Dutch to English. In what “language” did you write “Nib nok nok,” and how did you approach its translation?
That’s a wonderful question. Because I am slightly removed from my acquired Dutch and from my native English, I have a semi-estranged relationship to both languages. I focus a good deal on sounds. Poet Kate Foley challenged me to write a poem in the voice of an object. I wanted to create a language of rocks. The coinages and conjugations are fanciful and relate to no exact language, although I see traces of Dutch, Gaelic, Anglo-Saxon and Middle English sounds. Oddly, the rock-language part came first and the translation second. I was completely focused on the sounds and elicited the pattern afterwards. It wrote itself.
How do you connect with your writing community?
There is a vital community of English-language writers in Amsterdam, including Words in Here, who publish Versal. Eratosphere has been an invaluable resource, and a way to connect with poets all over the world. Another is the annual West Chester Poetry Conference, which I hope to attend again this June.
What helps you make time for writing?
Very little sleep.
Do you write in a specific place? If so, what are the things you like about it?
For the first time, I have a study at home. I like the quiet, the light, the patient vigilance of my dog, and the nearness of loved ones.
What really good poems have you read in online journals recently?
“The Lalaurie Horror” by Jennifer Reeser in Mezzo Cammin. Also in this journal, which is excellent, Maryann Corbett’s “Cuttings,” and Anna Evans’ “Fluid Mechanics I”. Umbrella and Tilt-a-Whirl merit reading cover to cover every issue.
Pen or pencil?
Early or late?
V-neck or ringneck?
Cake or pie?
Looseleaf or spiral-bound?
Trochee or dactyl?
Dactyl. (I have a poem in dactyls, “Rectangular, Angular Cow”.)
Mountains or sea?
Squid or slug?
Squid (see above).
Vowel or consonant?
Coffee or tea?
Online or offline?
Veg or nonveg?
Truth or fiction?
Poetry or fiction?