Interview with Poet Paul Webb – Installment 11

DDateable travels again!! This time we’re in Brazil with Paul Webb! Paul is a poet, translator, and English-language teacher, just to name a few! And quite an educated man, Webb holds a BA in Theology, a Master’s degree in Modern Languages and a Doctorate in Sociology. Naturally my first question will have to be about Language to a translator and teacher, so here we go!


Studying all the languages you have, how does language play a role in your poetry?

I would say that, at root, all my poems are about language. Poetry is about humanity and everything human is mediated by language. People say that the human brain is the most complex object in the universe. But language is more complex, because language is the product of billions of human brains working together throughout history.

When I moved to Brazil, I became keenly aware of the Englishness of English as a historically determined cultural, political and socio-economic artefact. I try to bring this out in my work: favoring Anglo-Saxon over Latinate lexis, using lots of phrasal verbs and grammatical and phonetic features that are characteristic of English and reflect its history of seafaring, free-market capitalism, industry and the like.


You mention various phases your poetry went through, which has produced your best work? (i.e French, Brazil, English / punk and rap)

I don’t really have the right to make that judgment for myself. I would say, however, that I feel more comfortable with my own voice now than I ever have done before. In the early phases, I was very dependent stylistically on certain masters: Francis Ponge, João Cabral, William Carlos Williams, and so forth. At other times my work was more exploratory, diffident, experimental. Now I always know exactly what I want as soon as I start a piece. That doesn’t mean it comes easily; I still have to craft. In fact, I tend to craft more, because I know now what I am working towards.


How has your life journey influenced your work?

As a general rule, I don’t write about myself or my life. I am interested in certain themes and follow these in my work. These themes necessarily derive in some measure from my experiences and the times in which I live. But I am not a confessional poet; nor does my work aim to reach out to people in a touchy-feely way. I can give two examples of these overarching themes rooted in issues that trouble me. One concerns the ambivalent nature of language itself. The way it simultaneously endows us with the great gift of being able to connect with other human beings and the world, yet also provides us with a set of tools that can equally well be applied to fostering exclusion and alienation and destroying the natural environment. This is perhaps explored most extensively in my series Thirty Sonnets on Autism, which was based on the experience of living with an autistic boy. In these poems, true closeness comes ironically from a denial of language, from a closing or shrugging off of neurologically typical language-bound human relations.

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The other theme is that of comfort and convenience as harbingers of self-destruction. The very facility of modern life contains the seeds of its own demise. The pursuit of happiness so often produces its opposite, especially in relationships. The theme is a pressing one in an age in which the pursuit off convenience and freedom from distress
is, in fact, ruining our mental health and poisoning our natural habitats. I first addressed this theme in an apocalyptic poem entitled Expurosis, in which the fires of the end of the world are described in terms of home and hearth and comforting warmth.


If you were writing a book about your life, what would the title be?

I wouldn’t write a book about my life because either it would be brutally honest and reflect badly on me or wholly dishonest and hence pointless. Besides, my life hasn’t been very interesting. There are far more important things to write about. My last selection of poems was entitled Fun and Suffering. That pretty much sums life up.


Is your work political?

Yes. My work has become more and more political over the years, although not in an overtly party-political or ideological way. I spent 25 years trying to write an idiosyncratic translation of Catullus Poem 64 .

When it finally came together, it was late 2016 and we had had the election of Trump and the Brexit referendum and I realized that, for a long time, I had been trying to write about the social forces that unleashed these results. Not that I support Trump or Brexit, but I hail from the ranks of the dispossessed working classes that do and I feel I understand why. Since then, it has become a mission to address these subjects, however painful. My next long poem series—17—was about a mass shooting.


What are your main aesthetic principles?

I have a very clear personal poetics, which is influenced in part by the principles that underpin the Dogme style of film-making. Like Dogme film-makers, I aim to avoid all artificial devices: rhyme schemes, formal rhythm, fancy language and the like. I try not to write anything in a poem that would sound out of place in everyday life. Poetry, for me, is about finding music and beauty in ordinary (even vulgar) language use, not about imposing an artificial or sentimentalized formal structure upon it.

If you want to see more of Paul’s work, head to his blog here


Interview with Poet Eeva Maria al-Khazaali – Installment 6

Today’s Poet is greeting us all the way from Finland! Eeva is well educated in the arts as she has studied Creative Writing in Orivesi College of Arts, Performing Arts in University of Bedfordshire, and Film Studies in University of Wolverhampton. Her work is now being translated into English and it’s an honor to be supporting her in this next step of her writing career.


The summary of your collection That I Would Dream About It had a line that really stuck out to me – “she is obsessed about the idea of women writing history and making their own stories heard”. How does this drive affect your work and your thoughts on the poetry community?

I feel that it is crucially important to make those stories heard that have been silenced and who don’t have their voices heard in the society. It is the stories (and poems) of the unrepresented minorities who need this the most. I would like to write herstory, instead of history – literature that tells a women’s stories instead of the history of white privileged men. In the poetry community of my home country I have walked in the middle of networking meetings and events to take my place in the midst of men.

I have faced so many young male art students and artists in my life that have said that I am a little girl, especially when I was not yet published, that I will not be able to ever do anything important with my life and my writing. I have proven them wrong with hard work and resilience, despite what people had told me before.


What does it mean for you personally and your writing career to have your work translated and marketed in a second language?

Personally, I learned to speak English at the age of 5. It means a lot to me to have translated my own work in something that I could call my second language. I have spoken English for so long that it felt comfortable to write the translation myself. Having my words in English, out there in the great big world, has made me more confident on impacting lives around the globe. Finland, where I am from, has a very small population and even less actual readers of poetry. This means that my words would have never had the chance to spread wide if it wasn’t to being published in English, too. It excites me to see the world take my book away, whatever it may.


Your line breaks are very deliberate and well thought out, what’s been your thought process behind that writing style decision?

The free verse poetry made a break-through in my home country post-world war II, in the 1950’s. It was then when the lines started to finally break in the middle of the verse. The feminist poets of that time have made me understand the special qualities of language in a line break: it sounds more sinister, more mature, more like literature. (Insert some laughter here). Instead of writing in monotone, I can use the style of writing in a more vivid and rhythmic way, even if I will never write verses in rhyme. But maybe then I will be old school again when the spoken word and rap will have their way and everything will be tied to rhyme again in poems. I just have personally hated rhyme in poems all my life and my line breaks as the necessary structure.


What growth did you notice from your first collection to your second?

I saw tremendous growth from my debut collection to my second book! I could have not believed how much my expressions could expand and live through-out those years in between of these books. My debut was prose poetry in a dramatic narration. It was an experiment as such but now I feel so free doing what I do, writing in free verse with a clear voice, as lucid as I can. I have always admired writers who have managed to write in such precise ways – and now, in my early 30’s I feel I have finally reached the point where I can rely on my senses and my experiences in life enough to speak not only for myself but to aim to speak for all others who might not have had the chance to speak for themselves before.


You’ve started a new project, I Want You, have you always wanted to make a jump into movies?

My full-length debut movie is indeed in post-production at the moment. I have always been interested in the poetics of film. As a young writer I was fascinated by the relationship of light, space and time in fine art and in correlation to writing. I did little research on how light is written about and watched a lot of art house movies a decade ago, not knowing one day that research would be taken to a film set and action.

Marguerite Duras wrote a film that inspired me back then a lot: Hiroshima mon amour. An idea to write about in a language for the silver screen had me dream about it ever since I saw the movie. I am saying that language can be gentle like light – or ashes. It can portray a world that was once hidden or invisible and our movie, I Want You, tries to experiment on those aspects of cinematic expression and poetics of film in a dialogue that is written as a narrative voice over the whole movie.

It was not a jump I had planned to go from poems to screenwriting. It just happened one day when I went to a 24/7 gas station to write. I wrote for 8 solid hours and came back home tears in my eyes, realizing I had written my first real movie. Now I am on to my second movie script with a team. I cannot speak a lot about that project yet but it is about a very sensitive and fragile topic. I will let you know more when it goes to production!


Click here to get your copy of Eeva’s collection That I Would Dream About It!