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Andrew Zawacki and Idra Novey in Conversation
On Guernica this week, Andrew Zawacki and Idra Novey are featured in a conversation moderated by Erica Wright, Guernica’s Poetry Editor, that touches on the subjects of imprisonment, technology, and translation. Zawaki is the author, most recently, of the poetry collection Videotape, Novey’s most recent collection of poems is Exit, Civilian. Here’s our favorite moment in their conversation:
Guernica: You both use foreign words and phrases in your work. Today, I looked up both “herido” and “les lois du hazard.” What do these moments allow you to do that you couldn’t do in English?
Idra Novey: The poem “Fist and After, El Cinzano” is about a tango bar in Valparaíso, Chile and the stranger who abruptly turned and punched my husband in the face. Random violence is baffling and terrifying anywhere, but this incident felt deeply Chilean to me in how people around him responded. It was as terrifying and baffling as the attack itself. Leaving the word for “injured” in Spanish (herido) was a way to evoke Valparaíso within the language of the poem.
Andrew Zawacki: I seem unable to keep them out, in part because my family life happens in French, and my poetry is less and less distant from my family. Maybe two possibilities open when a foreign phrase invades my work. One: to the degree that a word calls attention to itself—italics, diacritical marks, sheer unfamiliarity—, causing the poem to lose all vestiges of linguistic transparency, I hope it might signal outward toward the many splayed vocabularies permeating the poems, their cacophony of economies. Two: Blanchot comments somewhere on the frequent use of Spanish phrases in The Sun Also Rises, claiming that while Hemingway’s intention was obviously to create an impression that the novel was set in Spain, in fact the opposite happens. Each time we read a Spanish word intermittently dropped into the narrative, we’re aware that people must not, in general, be speaking Spanish. That language suddenly sticks out, reminding us that we’re reading—and that language doesn’t necessarily geocode accurately.