March 15th, 2011 / 7:43 am

Interview Roundup Part Eight: Lasky, Coetzee, Butler, Arasanayagam, Saramago

“I think poetry should do what it was meant to do—exist.  And then the big things that need to be done—like saving the world, for instance—needs to be up to us as humans.  We need poetry, but we need it like we need a tool.  Poetry is our poetry hammer.   And likewise, poetry is human, even as it is dead.  And so I think poetry can connect us to our humanity if we bring the human back into it.  I am interested in this Armantrout statement, as I think I know what she means (or at least can interpret what she means to support my own views).  I think she is saying that poetry should bring in the superhuman—the everyhuman—and be the summation of all the voices that it can summate.  Because in every person there is some power that can be brought—whether it be coaxed or triggered depending on the specific personality—into every poem.  And when we only seek out “voyeuristic identification” in our poems, we only expect the smallest parts of humanity (its meaningless specifics) from them.  And in that way, humanity becomes even more and more entrenched in meaninglessness when we identify with poems in these empty ways.  To make meaning we need to value meaning and vice versa.  It is a feedback loop.” – Dorothea Lasky in Octopus

“It is difficult to be a so-called successful writer and to occupy a marginal position at the same time, even in our day and age.” – J. M. Coetzee in Ohio Swallow

Devil Girl From Mars is the movie that got me writing science fiction, when I was 12 years old. I had already been writing for two years. I began with horse stories, because I was crazy over horses, even though I never got near one. At 11, I was writing romances, and I’m happy to say I didn’t know any more about romance than I did about horses. When I was 12, I had this big brown three-ring binder notebook that somebody had thrown away, and I was watching this godawful movie on television. (I wasn’t allowed to go to the movies, because movies were wicked and sinful, but somehow when they came to the television they were OK.) It was one of those where the beautiful Martian arrives on Earth and announces that all the men on Mars have died and they need more men. None of the Earthmen want to go! And I thought, ‘Geez, I can write a better story than that.’ I got busy writing what I thought of as science fiction.” – Octavia Butler in Locus

“I wonder if my kind of work will appeal to the West. Writers like Michael Ondaatje are wonderful, I admire them, but they are based in Britain or Canada, in the land of the expatriates, and very consciously write with an eye and ear to another kind of readership.” – Jean Arasanayagam in The Hindu

“An idea had been with me since about 1972: the idea of a siege, as in a besieged city, but it was not clear who was besieging it. Then it evolved into a real siege, which I first thought of as the siege of Lisbon by the Castilians that occurred in 1384. I joined to this idea another siege, which occurred in the twelfth century. In the end, the siege was a combination of those two historical ones—I imagined a siege that lasted some time, with generations of besieged as well as generations of besiegers. A siege of the absurd. That is to say, the city was surrounded, there were people surrounding it, and none of this had a point. In the end all of this came together to form a book that was, or that I wanted to be, a meditation on the notion of the truth of history. Is history truth? Does what we call history retell the whole story? History, really, is a fiction—not because it is made up of invented facts, for the facts are real, but because in the organization of those facts there is much fiction. History is pieced together with certain selected facts that give a coherence, a line, to the story. In order to create that line, many things must be left out. There are always those facts that did not enter history, which if they had might give a different sense to history. History must not be presented as a definitive lesson. No one can say, This is so because I say it happened this way.” – Jose Saramago in the Paris Review


  1. Jack M

      FYI, in case anyone is not familiar with her work, Octavia Butler died five years ago, and is considered one of the best science fiction writers of the twentieth century. Try her novel Kindred, even if you don’t like sci fi.

  2. Anonymous

  3. Interview Roundup Part Eight: Lasky, Coetzee, Butler, Arasanayagam, Saramago — Wordpress News

      […] “I think poetry should do what it was meant to do?exist.  And then the big things that need to be done?like saving the world, for instance?needs to be up to us as humans.  We need poetry, but we need it like we … Continue reading → […]

  4. guest

      That Coetzee interview is pretty great. The interviewer keeps trying to lure him into making “major writer” pronouncements about various topics, and he just keeps refusing.