Poetry International, in collaboration with 3:AM Magazine, is pleased to showcase a group of amazing young European poets. Steven Fowler, the Editor of the Maintenant Interview Series, began this project in January 2010 as a result of experiencing the differing, and inspirational, attitudes of European poetic cultures and how they contrasted to the UK. He said “I really thought it was a shame that poets from outside of the English language in Europe were never recognised until they had reached middle age and a certain ‘prominence’ in their own countries. I also wanted to present a truly representative sense of what poetry is for different traditions and methodologies, from the most traditional to the most avant garde. ”
We would like to extend a special thanks to the extensive list of those responsible for making this series possible. In particular, Jan Wagner, Eirikur Orn Norddahl, Jan Pollet, Nikola Madzirov and Damir Sodan.
An interview with Anna Auziņa by SJ Fowler.
One of the stars of the contemporary Latvian poetry scene, Anna Auziņa, already established as a classically trained artist, has emerged as a constant and resonant force in Baltic poetry over the last decade. Her work maintains a resolute affinity with the organic and perhaps overtly poetic language of her own personal journey as an artist. Gifted in both fields, her work reveals this creative agility in its imagery and tone. One of the five non-British poets visiting for the Maintenant Camarade event in the East end of London this October 2011, we are pleased to welcome our 75th interviewee in the Maintenant series.
3:AM: Your practise involves both visual art and poetry? Are these mediums intertwined for you, or do you keep them at a remove from each other?
Anna Auziņa: As I have the same thing in my head, it appears in both painting and poetry, but practically I try to keep them apart because they are very jealous of each other and are always stealing time one from one another. Right now I’ve decided to develop writing and I haven’t been painting for some years but I can’t promise not to paint never again in my life. I just can’t see what I can do now in painting what would be something special, new and unique – but I’m so presumptuous that I think I can in using words.
3:AM: You trained as a painter, I believe, how did poetry begin to become a significant part of your creative output?
Anna Auziņa: Yes I have studied painting for 13 years and haven’t studied poetry at all, except in secondary school, but I had strong writing background at home so I had got sense of language as a gift. While I was studying art and painting, writing was just an additional thing in my life. Though, as I have realized now, in fact it was the main thing what I was always really interested in. Now I think I came to a serious attitude towards poetry by a side path, getting a great colourful experience in this way.
3:AM: Has your training an artist informed your poetry, do you think?
Anna Auziņa: Sure, it’s my undivided identity. And if you train one thing it can help to understand the principles of another. Since I was twelve I had to work very hard at art school with its traditional approach, we were drawing and painting from nature for long hours, studying composition from art books – while in literature I just loved to read and I could simply write with good results. Here the work came later, but in the beginning I think I trained poetry through the visual arts.
Visual art is inside my poetry as an experience or an image. For example, I have a couple of poems where Vitebsk and works of Marc Chagall are directly or implicitly mentioned. There is woman from ancient Mycenia as well and other images from art history.
3:AM: Have you utilised linguistic means in your visual art?
Anna Auziņa: Just in the titles of my painting. If the poet has to give a name for picture it can be poetic.
As I’m not painting now during the last few years I try to use linguistic means at other kinds of writing. I started to write criticisn and essays though I never thought I would, and for the future I’m thinking about fiction, too.
3:AM: How has your work changed in the six years since your debut book Isolated Gardens in 1995?
Anna Auziņa: The title of my first book has several meanings and probably „Severed gardens” is more explicit, but “isolated” fits as well. Besides, in Latvian it means also „opened gardens”, opened as a book – it is a linguistic play on words.
When this book came out, I was very young, more living than thinking of poetry and I was not very interested in what happened after the book was ready. I even didn’t read all the criticism of my book. I was living the ordinary art student life. My attitude was not very serious then and I didn’t work a lot with writing. I thought then that poetry must come by itself without any effort. Fortunately, my second book, in spite of being small, had another prize and was published in 2001.
Those six years were very important in my life. I graduated from art academy, started serious work as a painter, got married and had children. All these things changed my personality and influenced my second book „Skiers are kissing in the snow.”
3:AM: “Es izskatījos laimīga” (I Looked Happy) was published in 2010, could you outline the work within that collection?
Anna Auziņa: If I compare my books with children, my first two books came themselves, but this third one I had to aspire and try hard to make. I was grown up and it was not enough with talent, now I had to work.
The title „I looked happy” could mean I was always considered as very nice, vivacious and positive both in my poetry and painting, and in private life as well with my family. In this book I tried to show that I may have something bitter and painful inside. Though it is not said I was not happy, it is an open question.
This is a book about a grown up young woman’s inner world including family life, children, friends, relations with opposite gender, nostalgia, past, mythology (but not as much as in first book) and everyday life with work in the office and longing for something more as well.
While writing this book I’d been working in advertising as a copywriter for five years. It was a quite hard experience but somehow it helped my poetry to speak directly to the reader and not only with myself and God.
3:AM: How did your receiving the Klāvs Elsbergs Prize and the Preses nams Book Award change your reception as a poet? Did these awards raise your profile considerably?
Anna Auziņa: Yes it helped me a lot, recognition always helps. For example, now my poems are translated into English and I can go to London!
3:AM: What are thoughts on contemporary Latvian poetry? Poetry seems to be in an extremely healthy state across the Baltic, is this reflected in the reputation of contemporary poets?
Anna Auziņa: Fortunately Latvia is so small that it is possible to meet and to be friends with all the poets whose work I like. I like most contemporary Latvian poetry very much. We have several poets which are great in both ideas and in use of language which is usually untranslatable.
I don’t think poets have a big reputation here. It’s like everywhere else; there are few people who read poetry. We are not very popular and none of us can live from poetry – as it is in other countries, too. And a poet in a small language has even less people to understand his writing. On the other hand, editing poetry here is the same number of copies printed as in bigger countries – so the reading percent is still high.
Sometimes it seems to me that a part of society is afraid of writers because they are able to express their opinion. And I always feel like minority being a poet and thinking as a poet.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
SJ Fowler is the author of three poetry collections, Red Museum (Knives Forks and Spoons Press 2011), Fights (Veer books 2011) and Minimum Security Prison Dentistry (AAA 2011). He is the UK poetry editor of Lyrikline and 3:AM. He is a full time employee of the British Museum and a postgraduate student at the Contemporary Centre for Poetic Research, University of London.