Boel Schenlær's Interview of Kos

Aug 15, 2014

Boel Schenlaer

1. When did you start writing poetry? How old were you at that time? What did you do with those early poems?

When I was ten years old, we had a dog we loved, a dog named Pyro, and he was hit by a car and killed.  I wrote a kind of prose poem about it, and when I showed the poem to the prettiest girl in our class, she immediately developed a crush on me.  That may have been the first time in my life I made some connection between language and love.  By the way, her name was Balbina, a beautiful name, almost a poem in itself.

2. When did you start publishing poems? Did you get any help from anyone? Is it easy to get published in (your country/town) as a poet? When did you become a mature poet? What’s the cut off line? And what brought the changes?  

I've published very few poems, partly because I've submitted very few and partly because the ones I submitted have frequently been rejected.  

You ask when I became a mature poet.  I'm not sure I understand what the word mature means in this context.  Picasso said he painted like a Renaissance master when he was a boy and then spent the rest of his life trying to learn how to paint like a child.  Does that mean he was getting more (or less) mature?

3. What is the poet role? Did it change?

I suppose the poet's role is different for every poet and maybe for every reader too.  Asking a poet to define his or her role is really a way of asking why he or she writes.  I can only speak for myself and say that my reasons for writing, like my reasons for reading, are in a continuous state of flux.  They change every day.  They change every hour.  Mostly I write because it makes me feel free, and when I feel free, I feel good.  In other words, I'm selfish, but I have to admit I sometimes dream of writing with so much freedom that it becomes contagious and allows others to experience that exhilarating sense of joy that freedom always engenders.  When Yannis Ritsos was in prison, he wasn't free to write, but he wrote anyway of course, writing his poems on scraps of paper and then stuffing them into cans, which he buried in the prison yard.  I like to think that every secret poem he wrote was like a jailbreak - and that for a brief time, a second, or a minute, or an hour - he knew that he was truly free.  When I read his work today, then I feel free too, and I love him for that.  

The truth is, I have no idea what the poet's role should be.  On the other hand, I know that you have written a biography of Kafka, who said that all writing is finally a form of prayer, and I think it's fair and accurate to say that we sometimes write for the same reasons others pray - to break out of prison, if only for a moment, and in that moment to find tenderness and joy in a place where grief and violence abound.  First to find it, then to share it. But let's face it, sometimes it's not so grand as that - sometimes we write just because we are the ones - the ink stained wretches - who love to scribble. Chekhov tells us that the purpose of art is to prepare us for tenderness.  Maybe that's the poet's role.

4. Who are your favorite poets? Why do you like them? What do you learn from them or in what way they have shaped your way as a poet?

My favorite poets?  I have too many to name, and I imagine you do as well.  However, I'm happy to know that I will have a chance to read alongside two of my favorite poets at the Södermalms Poesifestival, Firas Sulaiman and Samantha Kostmayer, and by the time the festival is finished, I will no doubt have added some wonderful new names to my list of favorite poets.  Lately I've been reading the poems of Hendrik Nordbrandt, the wonderful Norwegian poet, and enjoying his work immensely.  You probably know his writing, but if not, I am happy to recommend him.  

5. What’s your typical way of composing a poem? Where do you usually get inspiration from? Do you revise your poems? How? Do you prefer to publish them or lock in your drawer?

When a word pops into my head and begins running around, I run after it, and if I manage to catch it, I take it very gently by the hand and follow where it leads.  Sometimes it leads me to a poem.  

Inspiration?  Lots of poets don't like that word or believe in it.  I believe in it (sometimes) but I certainly don't understand it and can only say that it shows up without warning and departs without notice.  It always surprises me, and when I encounter it, I feel the way a confirmed atheist might feel if he looked up and saw Christ walking toward him over the water.  Hard to believe.  Impossible to explain.  Difficult to resist.  But let's face it, it makes us happy!

I revise constantly.  

I don't submit my poems very often, which is foolish of me.  I share them with family and friends, and when asked to do so, I read them in public.  The town in which I live held a KosFest this spring, a kind of public celebration of my work, and I was asked to read my poetry and some of my fiction at a newly renovated movie theatre called The Strand.  I read 15 poems and two short pieces of fiction.  We had a good crowd and raised a nice sum of money for the theatre.  I guess it went well, because the sponsors of the reading plan to make KosFest an annual event, an idea that makes me very uneasy.

7 & 8. When did you start going to festivals? How did you start it? Or what made you decide to do it? How much funding have you got from any source?

I've never been to a poetry festival before.  This will be my first.  

9 & 10: Contemporary poets that you consider good and your part in introducing/translating/meeting them?

There are so many good contemporary poets - I wouldn't know where to start.  Louise Gluck?  Anne Carson?  Naomi Shihab Nye? Adam Zagajewski?  Firas Sulaiman? John Ashberry? Natalie Diaz? Does a poet have to be alive to be considered contemporary?  If so, that eliminates a host of splendid poets, people who feel fully alive and present today, poets like Mahmoud Darwish, Nazim Hikmet, Czeslaw Milosz, Adrienne Rich, Aeschylus, Wislaw Szymborska, Yehuda Amichai, Walt Whitman, C. P. Cavafy, Zbigniew Herbert, Sapho and so many others.