A Little Bird Told Me: Summer Updates from Adrianne Kalfopoulou
Today’s Q&A fall preview comes all the way from Athens, Greece with author Adrianne Kalfopoulou, whose upcoming nonfiction title, Ruin: Essays in Exilic Living, is available September 9th. Until then, take a look at Adrianne’s responses below for her thoughts on the meaning of ruin and exile, to learn which mythological creature she’d like to keep as a pet, and more!
1. Do you remember where you were or what you were doing (or thinking about) when the inspiration for Ruin struck?
Oh, great question because I think throughout the entire writing of this book, I was continuously “struck” so to speak, by events, circumstances, “crises” that kept happening. But I only started to be aware of the linking strand of “ruin” somewhere after the 3rd or 4th essay in the group, one I actually called “Ruin.” Then I got quite excited about the various connotations and possibilities; that it’s a verb as much as a noun. “Ruin” as opposed to “Ruins” which is a more static idea, as something already ruined, while “ruin” as a verb – from the Latin ruina, and French ruere, meaning “to rush” and “collapse” – is something charged, something that changes if it also violates – it’s a very active word, with energy, and of course, implications, too.
2. Could you discuss the role of “exile” in your upcoming title?
Again, this is quite a multivalent word for me, I guess conventionally it refers to someone removed or uprooted from a place of origin but Roberto Bolaño’s wonderful discussion of exile (available here) speaks of it as a condition of shrinkage (as opposed to disappearance) and cites Swift as “the master of exile” who understood “exile was the secret word for journey.” That works for me, this condition of shrinkage in the midst of journeying is maybe a good way to describe the sensation of what I call “exilic” – a smallness of the self, and its helplessness, when everything around it feels much stronger and larger. These are also very human moments of vulnerability.
3. Biggest challenge while writing Ruin
To keep from falling into ruin myself in the midst of turmoil… & make sure the writing maintained that energy of “rush” or “collapse” described as opposed to the stasis of “ruins” a fait accompli as opposed to a situation in media res.
4. Do you have any unique or unusual writing habits or quirks?
I’d have to say the quirkiest habit is that I wish I had something of a habit, so I’d be a more disciplined writer. When I see pictures of smokers and drinkers I sometimes think if I had my own crutch to let off some of the accumulated tension of working over any length of time, I’d get more work done. But that’s only my mythologizing other writers’ habits. I sometimes take breaks and do yoga exercises, or go for a run, which is all pretty boring. Otherwise I just try and keep all my notes together – I do do that, scribble to myself as ideas occur, which turns into something of a chaotic process when I find myself going through weird not always legible lines to figure out what I thought was so important to what I was thinking at the time.
5. Are you working on any exciting projects this summer, related to your writing or otherwise?
I’m trying to finish a draft of a work that is, very loosely, fiction. Certainly a hybrid genre of sorts because it is sequentially unorthodox, that is emotional memory structures the work more than the kind of plot-driven chronology of sequential events. I keep thinking it’s a love story to the city (Athens), but who knows. It’s structured around tango, a dance that has no formal rules so that works well too. My other project is a research project I’ve been involved in, exploring Sylvia Plath and her Emersonian vision, or ambitions.
6. What mythological creature would you choose as a pet and why? What would you do with it?
Well if you mean the animal in mythology I’d like as a pet it would be Odysseus’ dog Argos who he leaves behind in Ithaca, and is the only one to recognizes him when he comes back 20 years later after Troy. But the “creature” I’d turn into a pet.. ! It might be fun to imagine the possibilities of turning the Cyclops into a pet …
7. A book you’re looking forward to reading but haven’t picked up yet
Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, and the Letters of Ted Hughes.
8. Favorite (or dream) summer vacation spot
I have to say Patmos is my favorite spot, an island in the Dodecanese where St. John is said to have had his revelations and written the Apocalypse. It’s where I go when I want to get away (even if it takes some 10 hrs. on a ferry to get there). It is the faraway-ness of the island, too, that draws me, and that I’ve learned over time of its strange coves and off-the beaten-track secrets, places to swim or just sit and stare at the Aegean.
9. Please provide our blog readers with one summer reading recommendation
I really loved Paris, When It’s Naked by Etel Adnan which was recommended and given to me by David Lazar; Adnan’s engagement with Paris is a seamless interplay between a concrete sense of the city, its moods, its weathers, its history, and her own insights, personal moments of the quotidian, and poetic. And this she accomplishes all on the level of the sentence. For example you’ll have a line like, “Cities attract each other like flowers do;” and then the weight of a sentence like this: “Manipulation of information is the most perfected science of this century’s end.” What’s lovely is how she weaves in and out of these various tonal registers to create a pitch that’s both somewhat whimsical and yet political. She really does manage to bring seemingly opposite kinds of dispositions together. Here’s another example of that: “Oh! If only Paris could get blanketed by snow I wish it would. But European unity has not yet performed such a miracle.” Wow… I really did go on about this!
10.Who is the person in your life that inspires you the most?
It changes, as it probably does for most people, no? I’m drawn to people – mentors, lovers, friends, kindred souls – who have something of the quester in themselves. Whether this started with my paternal grandfather, a restless mind who taught himself some 11 or so languages, and this through two world wars, or in the adventure of parenting and experiencing my daughter’s imagination, or as a teacher whose assumptions are changed by an interaction in the classroom – the person, or persons, always combine a generosity and curiosity of spirit. The person I’ve been most inspired by for some time is the person I’m involved with, a writer also, who across time and culture and the strange interstices of “desire and memory” has shown me new orientations to language and life.
11. What pushed you to become an author, and what drives your art?
The need to write; I think it’s as simple as that. Then there’s the magic (and torment) of what happens in the process, on the page, the alchemy of that self or persona that discovers other selves and personas from what might have been expected. I mostly write poems and essays. What happens to language, and how structure and form meld to the urgencies of expression (and vice versa) can be an empowering and sublime thing in the midst of the debris of life’s less magical and plainly brutal realities. One might have a story to tell. And one generally does, and there are some astounding stories out there, but for me it’s the transformative act in the writing itself that drives the work, and keeps me doing it.
Adrianne Kalfopoulou is Associate Professor of Language and Literature at Hellenic American University in Athens, Greece. She is the author of two poetry collections, Wild Greens and Passion Maps, both from Red Hen Press. Her poems and essays have appeared in Hotel Amerika, Essays & Fictions, Room Magazine, Fogged Clarity, The Broome Street Review and Spoon River Poetry Review. She has taught creative writing and literature in the Creative Writing Program at New York University and at the University of Freiburg. Her upcoming title, Ruin: Essays in Exilic Living, is available now for pre-order from Red Hen Press. It will be released September 9th.