Alex Custodio in Conversation with Klara du Plessis

I'm sorry get better soon

After Penny Siopsis

If a woman is pink and her lover is red
is the implication interracial or irreversible bliss
affect is a transgression in the way that omission is a lie
I recline on standby utterance a damnation adulterous uxorious
kindly contact the receptionist rather than greeting me
retreat, this room is tiled entitled the best way to punish
is the person antithetical to the state of affairs.

From the unpublished works of Klara du Plessis.

Alex Custodio in Conversation with Klara du Plessis

Alex Custodio: Firstly, I’d like to congratulate you on your forthcoming chapbook, Wax Lyrical, which is to be released in spring of 2016. Can you tell us a bit about the process of writing this chapbook and the subsequent process of getting it published?

Klara du Plessis: Wax Lyrical has an especially intricate history. The title poem is a variation of the script I used for a show in 2013 called Medusa Shaved – I recited poetry alongside music by Isis Giraldo and an interpretative set with two dancers. Otherwise, I’d been working on a collection of poems for a while called Hell Light Flesh, which I imagined would be one long, almost narrative work.

As for getting published, Wax Lyrical got rejected by one publishing house the same day as it got accepted by another! It’s really about sending your manuscript to as many places as possible, but also researching other books published by those places to ensure that your writing generally fits their aesthetic. It’s been a pleasure working with Toronto-based Anstruther Press; the editing process and design have been an open and constructive debate.

AC: Your poem “EK-PHRASES,” published in Issue 18.2 of Soliloquies Anthology, begins with the line, “In my first language Afrikaans, ‘ek’ / means the first person ‘I.’” Your poem “GUN gun” also incorporates and plays with the overlapping spelling of words in English and Afrikaans. As someone who divides her time between living in Montreal and Cape Town, how do these two languages  and perhaps the tensions between them  affect your work? Do you ever write poetry entirely in Afrikaans?

KDP: I learned to speak Afrikaans simultaneously, if not an instant before, English. It’s my so-called mother tongue. My thoughts are definitely bilingual, depending where I am or what I’m thinking about. The writing that I do entirely in Afrikaans is highly personal. Even the single words or phrases come across as personal in the end because the reader most probably doesn’t understand Afrikaans. Afrikaans is also an interesting language because it was officially recognized in the 20th century, but is regarded as dying now. It’s only spoken in a single country and a handful of diaspora households, and has a very bad political reputation. The language represents so much even before the meaning of the words themselves are taken into account. In my writing, Afrikaans straddles the tension between personal and predetermined.

AC: Where does your inspiration come from? On a somewhat related note, are there any particular authors or works that stand out as strong sources of inspiration for your own writing?

KDP: I guess I’m often inspired by visual art. “EK-PHRASES,” which you published previously is, of course, a kind of poem based on an image. I attached a short poem here called “I’m sorry get better soon” that I wrote about a year ago in Cape Town, after visiting a huge retrospective exhibition of the South African artist Penny Siopis. Her work is primarily in the red/pink colour range and incredibly visceral. I was astounded and moved by her work at the time.

Favourite writers keep changing, but I’ve been reading lots of contemporary poetry. I think it’s important to be familiar with the literary climate you’re working in. Reading new work is a risk because nobody has made a value judgment that says, “oh, this is good, this is part of the canon,” but it’s a delicious risk. You get to discover what you like rather than what you’re supposed to like. Right now, I’m obsessed with Corina Copp’s The Green Ray, very into Hoa Nguyen, and specifically Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. I’ve lent my copy of Chris Kraus’ I Love Dick to so many people that I may have to buy myself a new one.

AC: You have a Twitter account (@ToMakePoesis) on which you post frequently. Does the ability to communicate with other writers and with readers of your work enrich your experience of writing, or do you see your social media presence as inherently separate from your identity as a writer?

KDP: I love Twitter. It’s the millennial notebook. In a recent interview I did with Ashley Opheim (and Robyn Sarah), she mentions archiving her Twitter account and reconsidering lines when starting a new poem, a method I relate to 100%. As a gross generalization, a decent amount of contemporary poetry is driven by single phrases rather than an extended argument or topic. So the 140-character limit is perfect to hold a single poetic thought, which can later be juxtaposed to another. The idea of a public notebook immediately blurs poet with poetic speaker, an autofictive turn that interests me anyway.

AC: Alongside your writing, you have also been the curator of the monthly Resonance Reading Series since 2013. What has been the most enjoyable part about curating this reading series and has this process changed the way you view your own work?

KDP: Yes! On November 3rd was our reading with Governor General's Literary Award-winning Robyn Sarah, Madhur Anand, and Erin Robinsong. These events energize me. There was this amazing, coincidental connecting thread that ran between the readers. Erin read a poem she wrote that day based on a review I wrote (“Green”). She had also been previously published in an anthology that Madhur co-edited (Regreen: New Canadian Ecological Poetry). Madhur buys a book of poems in every city she visits and one of the first she bought almost 20 years ago was Robyn’s Questions About The Stars. The readers were listening to each other, choosing poems that picked up on previous cues: Robyn deliberately changed her line-up to include found poems to follow-up similar pieces by Erin and Madhur. An entire packed room dedicates itself to listen to poetry, concentrated engagement, and writers can leave the night feeling their work has been visibly appreciated. I experience gentle pride.

AC: Can you tell us a little about what you’re working on now?

KDP: Over the summer, I completed a manuscript of poems that I’m letting rest for an instant before shopping around. I’ve been writing quite a lot of reviews and am trying to figure out how to write critically in a creative way.

Photo by Dot Vermeulen

Photo by Dot Vermeulen

Klara du Plessis is a poet residing alternately in Montreal and Cape Town. Her chapbook, Wax Lyrical, was shortlisted for the 2015 Metatron Prize and is forthcoming from Anstruther Press, 2016. She curates the monthly Montreal-based Resonance Reading Series. Follow her on Twitter.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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