Kristen: At one point in Here in There, you write: “I heard supporting parts of words, shadows, and letters. I followed their indications” (24). In a way, does this describe your own impetus for writing? What do you find personally inspiring?
Angela: Inspiration – what is that? An awe or fervor? A mystical voice from beyond? This is an enduring question. I understand intuitively what people mean when they refer to inspiration, but I’m not moved by semi-divine revelation, personally. When I think about what makes me write and want to write, it’s mostly what I’m reading, whether that’s prose or poetry or philosophy, texts composed by brilliant minds whose words and sentences and languages open up something new in my mind and excite me to engage in dialogue.
As for recent books that make me want to write, I am reading Secession/Insecession by Chus Pato and Erín Moure. It’s an ardent book, an intelligent book, it’s full of pleasurable language, it makes me want to write and even more, to participate actively in the exchange of languages and poetries that is the heart of this practice we have given ourselves to, this thing called poetry. Secession/Insecession is, in many exciting new ways, what all poetry and translation should be. In part, it’s an experiment that shows translation to be an “encounter” as Norma Cole writes elsewhere: translation is a “record of an encounter” rather than a replica of another (foreign) text. Secession/Insecession’s bilateral structure foregrounds the dynamic nature of poetic translation: translating poetry is an open process of movement and creation and not the mere mechanical operation it is often mistaken for… This book makes me excited about reading and writing; not only is it a provocative experiment, it’s a truly political one (in Rancière’s definition of the political as distinct from the governing power) for a number of reasons I won’t go into here.
To return to your question, and to my book – in so much as any experience informs my writing in Here in There, the repetitive, simple sentence structure mimics that of border crossings, where one is to withhold as much as possible, to say only the minimum (though as an aside, I have to tell you that saying the minimum as a lesbian is already often quite a lot). The border I crossed repeatedly is drawn between languages and between localities; it’s a political and economic border. The short sentences are fraught with the tension of the border.
Kristen: The Ear of the Other echoes throughout this collection. Is there a story behind the infiltration of Derrida’s work into your own?
Angela: This is an interesting question for me. There are very few proper names in Here in There and in fact, there is only one reference to Derrida’s The Ear of the Other, and that comes early on in the book. In fact, it appears right after another author’s name is mentioned, Norma Cole, and her essay on translation, called “Nines and Tens,” which is an essay about the complexity of translation and what constitutes (ex)change. In any case, the reference to Derrida’s thought is raised in the context of this question of ex(change). It’s a paraphrase of Derrida’s observation that the proper name does not change in translation. In a more general sense, where the question of “the name” permeates my book, as the brand name or the place name, as the sign of consumption, this assertion of Derrida’s could be interpreted in the context of economic circulation.
The name is clearly tied to locality; locality would not be possible without the name; and yet the enduring fixity of the name allows it to circulate beyond its locality (only its value becomes questionable when it is relocated from here to there).
Kristen: In the beginning of the work, the switch of focus from “I” to “Iris” almost tricks the reader into questioning if Here in There is a first-person and third-person narrative of the same individual. At one point, you write: “Iris and I were the creation of parts of an amorous whole or a composite beast that could express nothing more frightening than love’s unrelenting desire for beauty” (36). The intentionality of “I” being within “Iris” and similarly “Here” in “There” causes the reader to question the construction of phonemes to morphemes. Do you mind shedding a little more light onto this exploration?
Angela: Iris is a texture of relief on the surface of the prose. Iris is a standpoint, a counterpoint, a messenger, an anagram for Siri, a part of the eye.
Kristen: You write: “Language was the reason of my possession. Language was what dispossessed me” (54); also, “A lack of name would mean to have no place.” You give attention to identity, naming, and the currency (and power) of categorization. Can you explain why these themes resonate with you so strongly?
Angela: Well, now I am living in New York where the lingua franca is English, but for a long time I lived in a place where the political transparency of language was not taken for granted by those in power and where the very language one spoke in quotidian situations was inflected with questions of power and hegemony. That is to say, that, as everyone knows, language is identity in Québec.
Kristen: For my own interest, the last image in the collection is so evocative: “squares and rectangles stamped with bars of hard metal onto soft drops of precious metal” (84). Can you provide at least one interpretation as to its meaning?
Angela: This line and image you picked up on, the last line of the last poem, is in part a direct reference to the earliest monetary pieces: before there were place names and localities inscribed in coins, there were simply geometric shapes. This was before value was inscribed in numerical form on the surface of the coin, when the value of the coin was still determined by weight. Later, when numbers were added to coins, value could be seen (read) instead. I was reading about this in a book by anthropologist, Clarisse Herrendschmidt, called “Les Trois Écritures: Langue, Nombre, Code.”
When I was reading about these geometric shapes on coins, these squares, the same symbol was pervasive in Montréal at that time, the red felt square that students and their supporters (and there were many!) wore during their 6 month long strike.
The square is a symbol that circulates before language or numbers or code, one that can be stamped into metal or cut out of felt…. This particular image you asked about was perhaps the only one that I struggled with, as both open and intentional, there was a question of over-determination, as one tries to end things, as one struggles at the end of the poem. I feel it is a heavy-handed and awkward way to end, but I am a fan of Agamben’s essay, “The End of the Poem,” where he argues that all poems must collapse and fail in their last few lines. And I think I accomplished this.
The views expressed in this BookThug blog entry are held by the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of BookThug.
Kristen Smith received her Bachelors of Arts in English at Mount Allison University (Sackville, New Brunswick). In 2006, she was awarded the Graham Atlantic Writing Prize for her collection of poetry, Voices. Additionally, Kristen was selected as one of six poets internationally to participate in the Writing With Style program at the Banff Centre, Banff, AB (2012). In both her creative and her academic writing, Kristen explores themes of absence, nostalgia, and belonging. She currently studies at Ryerson University where she is completing a Master of Arts in Literatures of Modernity. Kristen lives in Toronto with her husband.