An interview with Razielle Aigen
Razielle Aigen is author of Light Waves The Leaves (above/ground press 2020). Her poems appear in Entropy, Deluge, Contemporary Verse 2, Ghost City Press, Train: a poetry journal, Bad Dog Review, The Anti-Languorous Project, Talking About Strawberries all of the Time, and elsewhere. Razielle holds a B.A. in History and Contemporary Studies from Dalhousie/King’s University, and is an alumna of The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. More of Razielle’s work can be found at razielleaigen.com and through Twitter @ohthepoetry
How did you begin writing, and what keeps you going?
Memory. So bendy. Let’s see, I guess it was more like a movement-in-the-direction-of, a gradual culmination, and less of a definitive inaugural moment of arrival… so, I can’t properly say how I began…Foggy childhood memories float up — the smell of freshly sharpened pencil, eraser dust, graphite smudged fingertips, a yellow Hillroy notebook — Circa 1985, arcane scribbles and squiggles gradually morphed into carefully printed letters and eventually connected into deliberate and lumpy cursive with so much joyful purpose and wonder. “Look it! I’m writing!!!”
As for what keeps me going? That’s an even trickier question to answer because I don’t feel “kept” by much of anything…Writing happens. Trying to figure out how it happens is like trying to pin down a vanishing point on the horizon, you can’t exactly see it, but you know it’s there as a point of reference.
Have you noticed a difference in the ways in which you approach the individual poem since you published your first chapbook?
I’ve noticed that I’ve started thinking more in terms of poem clusters, or constellations, and less in terms of the poem as a singularity. So once a poem happens, then, how does the next one enter into conversation with it, is there a red thread? Not that I’m necessarily seeking out an on purpose red thread. The way I’ve been looking at things lately seems to lean towards a joining, by asking: is there some connectivity here? But it’s not a general rule or modus operandi or anything like that. Sometimes a poem is just a poem. Sometimes a poem is just its own thing; unrelated and unrelateable to anything that comes before of after, and that’ s fine.
What poets have influenced the ways in which you write?
I suppose my poems could probably be traced back to their influential sources — Joyce Mansour, Mina Loy, Rimbaud, H.D., Anne Carson, Blake, Shakespeare, Mallarmé, Margret Atwood, Fred Wah, Sylvia Plath, Clark Coolidge, John Ashbery, Gertrude Stein to name a marginal few. That said, — ugh —“that said” — there it is, again, that grammatically correct, yet pervasive little weed of a predicate I’m trying to weed out, but alas, clearly, failing at —- anyway, the parameters of what I call poetry is a bit scumbled, and so, I’d say my influencers include writers of other genres too: Salman Rushdie, Lenny Bruce, Nabokov, Kundera, Nathalie Sarraute, Mikhail Bulgakov, Marguerite Duras, Ingmar Bergman, Agnès Varda, Allan Watts, Allan Ginsberg, Julia Kristeva, Kierkegaard, Baudrillard, Bachelard, Deleuze, Derrida, etc. . . . But my writing is not necessarily inspired directly by poets or writers as such. I navigate a multiplicity of divergent aesthetic and artistic domains. Using a stereoscopic approach, I tend to gravitate towards an interdisciplinarity in my writing that asks: Can a poem take the visceral psychic stakes of Louise Bourgeois’ oeuvre, or be arranged to create the experimental sounds (or absence thereof) of a John Cage composition? Can a poem adopt an aesthetic of resistance through the irony of Ai Weiwei’s visual and performative lexicon, or represent the ghoulish and macabre of David Altmedj’s sculpture? Can we create poetry though a prismatic filter that culls from a broad range of disciplines in which aesthetic choices and political implications overlap?
How important has mentorship been to your work? Is there anyone who specifically assisted your development as a writer?
Definitely important. I’ve been lucky to have had some meaningful mentorship experiences in recent years.
I was fortunate to have spent two weeks at the Banff Centre for the Arts last March, in a writing residency mentored by Liz Howard. Liz’s sense of eco-poetry offered an exciting new direction to my thinking on the subject a that time, and our discussions helped me reshape the ways I was approaching form, space, and the visual aspect of my writing.
I’ve also had the joy of working with Jordan Abel, who was a mentor in The Writer’s Workshop I attended online through Simon Frasier University. My writing benefited a lot from Jordan’s gift of holding that vulnerable work-in-progress space, and his ability to see the poet behind the poem, the person behind the work, which helped me in turn to see my own work with honesty — in both its strength and shortsightedness, the things that were working and the things that were working less — in equal measure, with clarity and compassion. I also learned a lot from Jordan about process, intention, sincerity, and craft; and his thoughtfully curated reading suggestions expanded my reading practice, which left a positive imprint on my writing and my thinking about poetry in general.
What are you currently working on?
I totally understand the benefits of sharing and the working out process of a work-in-progress. And while I do love hearing what people are working on — I am genuinely intrigued by what the poets are up to — personally, I’m a bit of a, “don’t-talk-about-the-thing-until-it’s-a-thing” kind of person. I prefer to contain the energy of a project in the doing of the project, so as to keep the workflow flowing, as it were, in that direction, and then talk about it later, once the thing is done and it’s actually a thing, then I can talk about it.
Can you name a poet you think should be receiving more attention?
Ovid. So real. Still so crushingly poignant. Still so relevant.