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 Eric Suchère by SJ Fowler.
To many what was once the most expansively influential European tradition of poetry has now become one of the most hermetic. Yet within France there remains singularm emergent figures whose invention, and whose brilliance, marks them out as some of the most innovative in the world. Eric Suchère is one of them, art critic and art historian, he has created a remarkable oeuvre of conceptual, prose and written poetry over the last few decades and holds a rightful place as a leading light in the current French scene. For the 89th interview in our series, Eric Suchère.
3:AM: Can we discuss your remarkable postcard project? My understanding is that you send each month, a postcard to a fixed number of correspondents and this began on the day you turned thirty and you plan to end it on the day your turn sixty?
Eric Suchere: Not exactly, I was born in October 1967 and the project will end when I’m 60 years old, in March 2028, when there will be 365 cards.
3:AM: How does the process work in terms of generating texts? What images or text are on the postcard?
ES: The project requires that I write a text before the 24th of each month, whether or not I’m up to it, whether or not I have an idea. This is already a constraint. The second constraint is that the text has to be short. As the idea of temporality is very strong – because each month I write a text that I offer to the reader –, there is, also, the idea of reporting public or private events in a somewhat abstract and oblique manner. And there is the link with the seasons. And there is the issue of the succession of cards, since each card fits into a path over a long period of time. This can involve the relationship of one card to another and of one year to another… As for the images, they may be images I’ve taken or found (in the press, cinema or painting…). The images are not necessarily illustrations of the text even if they have a relationship with it – just like a postcard that you send while you’re on vacation. The image – which is one of the first things you see when you receive the card – indicates a tone, a state of mind, a mood…
3:AM: And you update the project every month online?
ES: Yes, there are postcards sent to 30 correspondents, and there’s the site that is accessible to everyone and, every five years, there is a book that brings together the texts. The three modes of distribution are very different, and they each provide a different version of the same text.
3:AM: Do you think the online medium of self-publication brings with it certain advantages that allow speed and access to audience that you could not achieve with print? How do you conceive of the Internet as an affect on poetics in this manner?
ES: I launched this site solely because of the images. I wanted to display the images of the cards in color and I knew that a paper version would be impossible – because of production costs. While it’s nice to know that you can be read anywhere in the world, at any time, by someone who has never heard of you and may come across this site, it’s still quite a conventional site, and I do not exploit the medium’s full potential (sound, moving images, multimedia).
3:AM: What do you hope for the project once it is completed? What will it represent to you – a record of your life as a poet?
ES: In fact, I do not really know, I’m only halfway through the project: 174 out of 365 cards! A lot of things should happen by then.
I guess that it has to do with embedding writing in a temporality as with diaries or correspondences – but without the intimacy. It is about showing a trajectory – Paul Valery’s Notebooks, for instance, really impressed me. For now, this is a laboratory. I can try out even disastrous things – which I will correct when the book gets published. It’s as much about digging as about rambling – in the Mallarmean sense. Recording my life is not my aim. I hope this produces literature, i.e. distance from the self and that no one is going to ask if one card is related to a biographical event – even if that happens sometimes.
3:AM: Beyond the borders of France it is not easy to discern how shifts in contemporary poetics look back upon trends and models of poetics that, in translation, have had such a distinct and discernable effect on poetry outside of France. If there are legacies that exert in influence on your work from France, what are they?
ES: Gustave Flaubert for the stylistic thought, Stéphane Mallarmé for the grammar, Paul Valery for the ethics of writing, Proust for the sensitive quality in the transcription of perception and sensation, Francis Ponge for the distance from the self, Samuel Beckett for the rhythm … and then there are many things that come from painting.
3:AM: You teach art history and art theory, how does your practice as a teacher absorb your practice as a writer of poetic texts? Are they kept separate or do you intertwine organically?
ES: A large part of how I see writing and literature comes from art and, mainly, painting, either thematically or aesthetically. So there is a strong relationship. I feel that the arts have a greater impact and influence on me than literature. I should add that I do not only teach history and theory of art since I write a lot of art criticism. To write texts on art is already a kind of writing.
3:AM: Your writing often seems to be evoking a sense of description, often of place, but within a model of syntactical breaks and phenomenological emergency, you seem to somehow distort those pictures you are excavating and revealing. Is this a concern of yours?
ES: I do not know if I distort what I describe. Let’s say I try to show that seemingly insignificant things are meaningful. I think I try to report things as accurately as possible, but writing and its problems (sounds and rhythms) can definitely hinder the transparency one expects, for example, in a description. I try to give an account of the world in its complexity and if the result seems distorted it is because the world is complex – even in what is apparently the simplest.
3:AM: Language would seem central to this project, and perhaps the L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E movement too. Is this the case?
ES: Language is not central; it is both a tool – what I write with – and what causes a good part of the reader’s pleasure – and mine too. I do not write to put language forward, but because things, objects, beings… cause relationship networks that make sense or with which I try to make sense, that I feel are meaningful or that I would like to understand and writing is what allows me to do this. I can only do so – regardless of the quality of the result – with it. As for L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E, while it interests me a lot, it is far from me. I prefer Michael Palmer who is on its margins. To caricature, let’s say that I can be very impressed by Gertrude Stein, but I am more touched by objectivists.
3:AM: Your translations must be a unique undertaking, do you work close with those translating your work? Do you have a hand in the process?
ES: It depends on the translations and translators. I think that when the translator is a writer, he can write his own text with the text of another. I accept that and I let them do whatever they want with my writings – and I just correct a few small mistranslations. When it is a professional translator, it has to be as close to the original text in another language. In this case I am more present and I try to guide the choices – although sometimes it is not necessary. And it also depends on the language. When it’s in English or Italian, I have an idea of how the result should sound. When it’s in another language, it is so far from me that I cannot say much.
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.