Thursday, August 06, 2009

author talk: Rose Hunter + Dorothee Lang Part II

Dorothee Lang is a writer, editor, web freelancer and traveller. She lives in Germany, and is the author of the story collection in transit.
Rose Hunter is originally from Australia, she lived in Canada for many years, and now is living in Mexico. She is the author of the story collection Another Night at the Circus, and of the poetry collection to the river (forthcoming in November).

In June, the two authors started an e-mail dialogue about their books, and themes connected to the stories included - PART 1 is up here, it's about linked short story collections; the gap between anticipation and reality and the stories coming from there.
In Part II, the dialogue continues with the theme of travelling, and then moves to Dorothee’s collection in transit and Rose’s forthcoming poetry collection to the river.


Rose (6.7.): Recently I took a trip with someone, and I notice that the stories I came away with are very different as a result. In one way I felt like I paid less attention - but then again, I saw things I wouldn't necessarily have seen had I been on my own.

Travelling alone, it seems your expectations become almost like another character. There's this internal dialogue which is increased, during solo travel. “Look at that? What do you think about that, then??” Etc.

Dorothee (8.7.): Usually, I travel with my partner or with a friend, or travel to meet friends, and usually then already have a place to stay booked – but my journeys to Asia were solo journeys, and with that, very different for me, both from region and from the approach: just a backpack, the plane ticket, and a rough plan. In the in transit story “These Laws of Space and Time”, there is a note on this way of travelling included:

"I am the nomad from Madrid," he explains. "I just travel with myself."
"To go alone, it is a good way to travel," she answers.
He is surprised when she tells him how she longs to be there, in Asia. Under the Eastern sun, with the freedom to go where she wants to go, stay where she wants to stay. No compromises, for a while. No one else responsible for things going wrong, for things going right.

Reading this now again, it also might describe the way I worked on this collection.

Rose (30.6.) I like that parallel - and I meant to ask you about this. I think I remember reading something on your blog about the selection process for the stories in in transit, and it sounded interesting.

Dorothee (30.6.): I think the first draft for in transit dates back to 2007. Back then, I focused on the physical transit zones: train stations, airports – but it didn’t really work. It took several approaches and seasons until the right time and concept came together, that was last year, when I went on a road trip through France, and back home, returned to the files. I had the idea to sort the texts in widening circles – starting with the country I live in: Germany. From there, the routes move through Europe, then cross into the USA and into Asia.
I worked with the chapters / circles in phases. In each phase, I started at the computer, threw out texts, added texts. Then I printed it, and took the print-outs to the living room, and laid them out, to spend some time with them. From there, I moved to the next round: shifting texts, working with images, adjusting, revising.

For a while, I also played with the idea to put hand-made copies of in transit together. In the end, this didn't work out, but creating those test copies was an important part of the process, they brought ideas like the photo pages, and also helped immensely to fine-tune the layout.”

This approach also explains why I published the book under the blueprint label: the base idea really was to create a chapbook that I could print and put together and send out myself, and have it ready in spring. I liked that idea: a self-made transit. It also matched the way I travelled in Asia: alone, on my own, without travel agency or hotel reservations or tour guide. And so that approach remained, even after the collection grew too large for a chapbook, and into a paperback.

Rose (6.7.): So interesting to read about your process. I used to love printing everything out, and especially liked laying it all on the floor to look at it. Then I landed in Mexico without a printer, and I haven't printed any of my work out for over a year and a half. Now I've written a whole (400 page) book this way. I wonder if it's made any difference, in terms of what I ended up with. I'll find out, when I read it again, I guess....

Dorothee (6.7.): For me, the printing of in transit pages for revision lead to a general tendency to print pages. When I received your new poetry collection, to the river, I first browsed it on the monitor. I looked at the index, and tried to figure out how the poems are sorted. Then I printed the first 20 pages, and started to read them. And got all caught up. There is a vibe – it took me right there, into this bus that lurches in Sydney. And then the cars that crunch by headlights in “Snow” in Toronto – for me, this drive went on, past the branch, and through “my neighbourhood” in Milk Crates, and then Past the Falls, and on to the Greyhound that moves out of Detroit. What a ride. It made me think of Kerouac. Then I started to read Olas Atlas, and there it was, a quote from him. So good.

Rose (7.7.): I'm glad you like! I fiddled around with various alternate sortings for to the river, but ended up with what I had originally, the simplest solution - which was basically chronological: the order in which I visited those places, and more or less the order in which the poems were written as well. That's why the locations zigzag around the place - because that's what I did too, over the years.

How the book came about was I sent the last I guess roughly one quarter of it (the Puerto Vallarta section) to Ryan Bradley (of Artistically Declined Press) as a chapbook, and he read it and liked it but asked did I have a bigger book of stuff, so I collected a bunch of other poems together - the ones which had to do with place and travel - and sent that to him and he said, why didn't I put the two books together and I said: OK! Yes!

So the Puerto Vallarta poems went at the end of the book, because they "happened" most recently. That was already of a piece, so most of the work in terms of selection was deciding which poems to keep and which to leave out of the bigger section. I hope I made the right decisions, more or less. I tried to get a flow going. I did some interior shuffling, within place sections, but left the order of the places as they were - the order in which I went to / was in those places. I have a very literal mind in some ways. Also I find that life often creates its own patterns that are much better than what I, at least, can make up. What I like to do is find these patterns and accentuate them. Really, I dislike making things up, and/ or am not very good at it. It's a bit of handicap for a writer, but it's what I've got, so I try to make the best of it!

Dorothee: See: another unexpected parallel - both to the river and in transit expanded from a chapbook. Maybe that isn't unusual, thinking of it.

I really like what you said about patterns, and that it’s worth a try to follow these. I had thought about the approach to go along a timeline, too. Looking through in transit now with this thought, all it would take to get the whole collection almost into timeline would be to switch the last chapter “Asia” with the one before, the “USA” chapter.

I also looked at places included in both our books, and even though there is no direct match, there is this overlap of travelling in the USA: Las Vegas and San Francisco in to the river, and Miami and Florida in in transit.

Also, there is the Spanish vibe, in Tonos Intensas and Pool Sides (from in transit), and in the to the river poems from Mexico: Jesse, or Agave – which was the one included in the BluePrintReview issue '(dis)comfort zones', here's the page: Agave.

It reads different now, in context with the others. In the (dis)comfort issue, it felt like stepping into a foreign country, one that comes with an own set of plants, of customs and rules.

Rose (13.7.): Re "Agave", I was very happy you picked that poem up for BPR - it belongs to the last part of to the river of course; the “Puerto Vallarta” section. It’s interesting what you say about the feeling of that poem. I tried to construct the Vallarta section as a self-contained chapbook with its own register of recurring images and themes, some of which are in Spanish, as well as being part of a private world; that kind of insular vocabulary that develops between lovers and/or people unhealthily obsessed with each other. (!)

Yes, and I really love “Tonos Intensas.” That kind of “found” poem…. How did this come about?

Dorothee: "Tonos Intensas" - I started to piece this one together in a plane, with found lines from ads, it’s one of the few poems I wrote that include Spanish words:

“The colors of time
Are visions of legends of
cuando el cielo se uno
con el mar
the perfect beach
is transparency..”

- I admire this in your poems, the swift flow from English to Spanish and back, like in "Jesse":

“Jesse’s back, emblazoned
with surenoo, XIII, X3, EME;
kan, kanpol. Jesse’s arm, with
laughing and crying face. Play now..”

And I wanted to say this: a special treat of reading through to the river was the encounter with poems I have read before, in another place. Context is one of the aspects in writing and in layout that keeps fascinating me, the way the environment reflects on a text or an image, and vice versa.

Another poem that felt different when reading was the Vegas one: "Walking into the Wynn, Las Vegas, and You Are Stitched Into" – I knew it from Referential, where it is connected to the wilderness of the gulls poem. In to the river, it’s the next destination after a tough departure, and reading it there feels like revisiting a piece that belongs to the Referential net, but indeed also belongs to the river mosaic.

Rose (9.7.): The two languages slide together wonderfully in "Tonos Intensas". It’s interesting that you picked out "Jesse" to comment on here. The words and symbols in this poem are insignia that you find in gang member tattoos and in their graffiti. Many years ago now, I knew one of these guys, in Guadalajara. It was pretty interesting. As he told it to me, X3, and XIII stand for thirteen; the thirteenth letter of the alphabet, which is “M,” i.e. “EME” in Spanish, which stands for Mexican Mafia (in this case those from/ aligned with southern California….) “Kan” and “kanpol” are the same thing in a third language; a native Mexican one - Nahuatl. So the “text” that I took these things off (Jesse’s tattoos) is literally a trilingual one. Jesse was the person’s real name. He was out of the gangs when I met him, but he still had all the ink. We lost touch and I assume he has no idea I wrote a poem about him! So that’s one type of context.

Re Referential magazine, I really like how it situates pieces in that “net.” Your journal, the BluePrintReview, also does something similar as well, by matching texts with images, and one of the things I appreciate about it (and your blog) are all those far-ranging links. I often have fun with your links on my blog, as you know. Here's the one that leads to your image linked to my poem at Referential, and also your notes on the image. And more... "Some Catch Up".

But, before I get carried away with that, one thing I wanted to say first is I love the mysterious tone in many of your stories, e.g. "Harlequin" and "Pool Sides." "Pool Sides” I think is one of my favourites. It’s the mix between quotidian detail that you have in many of the stories - e.g. here, the black swimsuit, which then contributes to something more intangible - that I find wonderful.

The Judd boxes in “Two Rooms” I found so interesting as well, as objects that are literally “in transit,” from one exhibition to another, and the narrator remembering that she's seen them before, and kind of sleuthing out where - and also imagining the processes they have gone through to get where they are now. This is something I often think about: where objects have been, and what they've "seen," which is in my "Milk Crates" poem [in to the river]; also boxes, of a different type:

Like the staple they are made to contain
they, too, have a basic elegance.

The cube beloved by artists
In my neighbourhood, they are the colour
of Whistler's Peacock Room with
shards of themselves hanging down

I like that the narrator in your story wants to move the boxes too. It got me thinking about art spaces. I suppose this has been done, but wouldn't it be interesting to have an installation where the viewers were able to come in move things around.

Returning again to in transit, I notice you employ different points of view in the stories. I wonder how you chose which POV for which? I find myself writing now almost exclusively in first person (that literal mind again perhaps). I don't know if you want to say something about POV?

Dorothee (8.7.): Point of view - yes, some stories in in transit are third person, some first. I don’t really decide on viewpoint in a structured / rationalizing way before I start, it’s not necessarily the way that the first person travel stories are closer to the actual experience, and the ones in third person are abstractions. It’s rather that I start to write a story, and it’s not unusual that I try both approaches for it, to see which works better for this particular story I want to tell. Connected to that a thought: the stories in the first chapter of in transit (Germany) are both first person, while the stories in the second part (Europe) are all third person. then the third chapter, US, has just 1 story, which is based on a diary entry in first person, but it is moved into third person here. And in the last chapter (Asia), the first story is 3rd person, and the last one is first person again.What to make of this? Not sure. But it’s interesting, I hadn’t looked through the collection from this point before. Maybe it relates to the thought that travelling often induces a different viewpoint, or: changing viewpoints.

Which probably also reflects in my photography – it’s another level to visit a place, and to tell about a certain moment.

You already picked up on the photo that was combined with "Agave" in BluePrintReview. – The photo is from Lanzarote, a volcano island. I had a rent car there, and drove past a lava field, and then stopped at the roadside to take this picture. The whole landscape there is in various shades of black and brown, making every color stand out – every palm tree, even every cactus. It’s an extreme environment, almost like an island-size painting. Later, when working on the issue, I photoshopped the image, to include this thought of a giant painting, and it came out like I hoped for.

Now writing about this, I remember that it was the picture you had in your blog back then, an old agave picture, that made me think of this possible connection. And I really enjoy your street scenes from Mexico with all their vivid colors.

Rose: I’m glad you like them. I enjoy taking them, and often use them as prompts to get me started on a poem or something. But they are really just snapshots. Whereas I look at your photographs and see - ah - now these are really good! I wonder if you could say something about the intersection between these two art forms, for you? Do you see yourself primarily as a writer, or a photographer, or both?

Dorothee: This question really made me ponder. I went back to the first images of mine that were published, they were part of a travelogue about traveling through Laos. And now looking at it, I would say that it was my solo journeys to Asia that brought me to photography. A lot of my friends at home were rather curious about those journeys, and while traveling, I tried to capture the places I visited, or rather: the mood of the journey. And to catch this mood, I took “travel”/ “transit” photos: photos taken through plane windows, on railway platforms, or on the road, like this one, from Laos.

Solo traveling also allows for taking time for a picture, for circling a place, and trying different angles, without feeling pressed for time.

Then later, back home, this way of photography continued: to find the angle / viewpoint that captures the moment, and the photos now often stand for themselves.

Journeys are still a main theme of my photography, though: if you look at my recent publications, there is “Sezession21” from the short trip to Vienna in June, right next to “Coptic Pizzeria”, from London last year. And a bit further down is “Society of Swans” – here, the photo came first, and later, the idea for a poem developed from it.

Rose: I’m lurching from topic to topic again, but I wanted to add that I liked the line from Laurie Sheck that you quote at the end of in transit,
"...when you create a book you create a space that you wander around in."

I liked this analogy when it comes to (writing but also reading I suppose) - books. You look for signs, place markers. Try to find your way. Maybe the map is useful, and maybe it's missing some vital information. Or maybe you don't read it right. Or maybe you haul it out of the backpack and find it's the wrong map.... All kinds of things can go wrong (and right) as you lurch around, in new territory. Then the street ends, and you might have to take a in your last story, "The Buddha...."

One final note, I very much liked how the book feeds back into a website. It immediately called to mind a comment I saw recently, made by Sean Lovelace, in his Dark Sky interview.

"I’m not worried about the book. The book is a technology. It’s not even that old of a technology. The book and the Internet will merge now. The book will spill off the page. That’s OK. But for those who want the book to remain static, those who want to ignore or disdain the online lit world, you are in major denial...."
He goes on to say more stuff I agree with as well. The main thing I wanted to quote was the book spilling off the page. Maybe other people say that too. Most likely. In any case, I like it.

Dorothee: The book spilling off the page – it’s a good image. It also relates to your note on an art installation where the viewers are able to come in and move things around, and to the theme of reading a page online, and then print it – to explore the different options.

I really liked these lines from you: "I liked this analogy when it comes to (writing but also reading I suppose) books. You look for signs, place markers. Try to find your way. Maybe the map is useful, and maybe it's missing some vital information. Or maybe you don't read it right. Or maybe you haul it out of the backpack and find it's the wrong map.... All kinds of things can go wrong (and right) as you lurch around, in new territory."

In a good coincidence, i received a book yesterday that was featured in Daily s-Press recently:
Common Boundary - Stories of Immigration. I read the foreword, it’s written by Jason Dubow, and it includes this passage that relates to point of view:

"And, really, aren’t we all a jumble of perspectives? Aren’t we all living somewhere between our dreams and our reality, between our fears and our desires, between our various identities?"

Rose: That would be a nice organic ending to the interview, this quote. Shall we cut here?

[The END]

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