What would you like to share with our readers about the work you contributed to the Bellingham Review?
These two poems come from my underway second book, Horology, which explores the history of mechanical timekeeping at a turning point in the eighteenth century when it more or less supplants astronomical timekeeping as a standard for a variety of practical applications, most notably maritime navigation. The book divides into four sections, two of which intercut with one another and all of which deploy a different formal standard—metrical, lexical, typographic, etc.—for keeping time within the text. If present plans hold true to final execution, these poems will belong in the book’s prologue, but they’ll almost certainly have a drastically different look.
Tell us about your writing life.
Well, I just took a gander at my CV and it appears I’ve been publishing poems relatively consistently for going on nine years. A scarcity of the kind of books I most want to read has kept me writing—books that rely heavily on the imagination, that thumb their metaphorical noses at form and genre, and that make an aesthetic delight of difficulty. Sarah Shun-lien Bynum’s Madeleine Is Sleeping is an example that, to me, meets all those demands. But for what little value my estimation can command, I think that on the whole the easy and the expedient rule the day, and that’s fine; they’re just not for me, as either a reader or a writer. I can’t really put it better than Robert Coover does when he says that he’s just trying to nudge the conversation in a different direction. My fixations in trying to do the same, in my own small way, tend on the one hand to be historically mining the English lexicon for new sounds and rhythms, and on the other, messing around with form and pattern to try to get such features, which a lot of people misconstrue as asemantic, to manifest an undeniable significance.
Which non-writing aspects of your life most influence your writing?
You’ve got me hard-pressed to pinpoint anything specific. My reading habits and interests range widely. I do derive an invaluable amount of influence from talking to artists, makers, and collectors of all stripes about their practices. For instance, the generative idea behind the book I’m writing now, this sort of hybrid, lyric-fictional tour of industrial timekeeping’s origins, it came from a conversation I was having with a digital language artist, John Cayley, about the different relationships that code and natural language (categorically not synonymous) have with time. And that conversation took place when I’d just begun developing an interest in the history of the wristwatch on account of another, slightly earlier conversation with a friend who has a serious zeal for mechanical watchmaking. More recently, I collaborated on a performance based on my first book, Pilgrimage Suites, with a cellist and gambist, Rebecca Reed, who plays with the baroque ensemble, Apollo’s Fire. Plenty of good ideas to bat back and forth there, particularly with respect to sound. We’ll see where it goes.
What writing advice has stayed with you?
Out of the slurry of partially understood advice that sloshes around in my head, there are two succinct but powerful dicta I’ve managed to lash together into a life raft to keep any ideas I have afloat long enough to send them coursing down the proper operational channels: “Be untimely;” and “make it new.” Now, there are spools of knotty logic binding those two imperatives together. But I like puzzles, paradoxes, antinomies. I guess they tend to focus my attention.
What is your favorite book (or essay, poem, short story)? Favorite writers?
Favorites are hard, very hard. So, I’ll have to respond with proportionate roving and evasiveness. When it comes to books, I have FAVORITES, which I play in very close proximity to the chest; I can’t tell you about those. I can, however, relay a few favorites (sans emphasis caps.), which include Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, Ugo Foscolo’s Ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis, Carole Maso’s Ava, Isidore Ducasse’s Chants de Maldoror, and David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress. Those are books I return to. As for favorite writers, I’m going to limit myself to the contemporary and exclude close friends. Here follow, in no intended order, some of the folks who come immediately to mind: John Banville; Thalia Field; John Wilkinson; Maggie O’Sullivan; Laurie Sheck; Renee Gladman; Eleanor Catton; and Ben Marcus. The second I send these answers off, believe me, I’ll start grinding my forehead into my palm and chewing away at the insides of my cheeks as I think of everything I should have included and didn’t, or couldn’t.
What are you reading right now?
At any given time, several stacks of reading in medias res are upwardly menacing me from the floor. Atop the nearest stack are, let’s see… Veit Erlmann’s Reason and Resonance, C. L. R. James’s Beyond a Boundary, which I picked up on recommendation from a friend only a few days ago and am now fondly wrapped up in, and Andrew Zawacki’s latest Sébastien Smirou translation, See About.
What project(s) are you working on now, or next?
I just finished a first-draft translation of a critical monograph. Redrafting, then the apparatus and the long introduction the text will need, since there’s really nothing like it, will come next. There’s another translation, a collection of poems, I finished ages ago that I ran into some rights issues over and need to revisit. Furthermore, having had a good long while to noodle about it, I’ve concluded that the collection really demands a more aggressively experimental approach than I initially took. Sorry for the lack of specifics, but as a matter of personal policy I don’t talk about the details of translation projects until all the pertinent deals are done. Some quirky sort of phobia about getting scooped, no doubt. About half of the book, Horology, which I mentioned above, remains to be written. Some of it’s poetry; some of it’s prose. Or the entirety is both and neither. Some magazines, such as Bellingham Review, have picked up pieces of it as poetry. Lately others have picked up longer excerpts as short stories. Working on it gives me plenty of challenges, especially in terms of its structure, which is now and will likely stay fairly byzantine. I won a generous joint grant from the NEA and JUSFC (Japan-US Friendship Commission) to spend the winter and spring in Japan attempting to finish it. So here goes.
Anything else our readers might want to know about you?
This is going to come across as both a copout and as unctuous self-deprecation, but I don’t have anything brag-worthy to close with. I do, however, suffer from a mild case of horror vacui. Hence the pablum when confronted with the risk of leaving one of these queries blank and hanging.
DEREK GROMADZKI is the author of Pilgrimage Suites (Parlor Press 2017) and the chapbook, Horology (Paradigm Press 2016). His work has appeared in American Letters & Commentary, Black Warrior Review, Chattahoochee Review, Conjunctions, Fugue, The PEN Poetry Series, Witness, and other magazines. His latest translations, collaborations with Sayuri Okamoto, can be found in Alice, Iris, Red Horse: Selected Poems of Yoshimasu Gozo (New Directions 2016). He has taught at Washington University in St. Louis and Oberlin College & Conservatory. He is a 2018 NEA-JUSFC Fellow.
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