Poetry News

Sara Deniz Akant Is a Necessary Nucleus

By Harriet Staff

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Heavy Feather Review gives us the first interview with poet, educator, and performer Sara Deniz Akant, author of Babette (Rescue Press, 2015). Selected by Maggie Nelson for the Rescue Press Black Box Poetry Prize, Babette "frankly, is an amazingly odd book." Who's Babette? Says Akant:

...You know the scene in Hellraiser, when that horrible dude puts himself back together out of the blood in the floor? But Babette isn’t necessarily evil, she is a necessary nucleus—and yes, a “gohst”—that stands her ground, repeats her name, and reminds the reader that something is fkd up with time and space. And if you’re wondering whether Babette is me—a sort of rep for the multiple self—one name or noun used to mark the infinite language of the body—that’s a good way of thinking about it, too.

Writes Ally Harris: "It irritated my desire to reach outside of its pages, caused me to stuff my head into the Internet portal to unearth clues and concepts or new words, like Cheburashka, the creepy/cute cartoon character of Russian children’s literature." More on why and how from Harris and Akant:

We’ve never met before, so I feel like I want to warn you that I’ve never read or studied Old English, I don’t know multiple languages, and I don’t even remember facts very well. Babette (the book) is “without sympathy for / the abyss.” The fabric of language is sometimes hieroglyphic in that some of the words are not easily translatable (ovâtron, ovitem, roshie/roshels), but we get some sense of their meaning just by looking at them. How much do you want your reader to use the Internet to look up or translate words they don’t understand?

No warnings necessary! I also don’t speak multiple languages, at least not categorized, rule-governed ones. That said, my father is Turkish, and my family spoke an amalgam of Turkish, English, and French when I was growing up. Then I went to an international high-school where at least twenty different languages were being tossed around every day. For a kid that was already confused by English on its own—I’m the kind of dyslexic that is a little weirder than textbook dyslexic, “learning disabled,” “language disabled,” sure, fine—I think having all these other sounds and structures was not only overwhelming, but influential in a good way. In one ear out the other perhaps, but also leaving some residue behind. Basically I just thought of words and sounds as frustrating and fluid, so I started to play with them, mostly based on my own personal associations, mis-readings or mis-hearings. So while there was never really any “research” or intentional difficulty involved in these words, I don’t exactly like to call them “neologisms” either. They mean something: visné is a Turkish sour cherry, for example, moca-choca is an inside joke with friends (eg: “moca-choca latte”). Both my sister and I translated salt as dalst—and what Nineties kid doesn’t remember those cool Umbro shorts? I gotta admit that I find Old English exciting, and was glancing at some Old English poems—not for meaning, but for texture. I will probably always spell “eyes” as eies from now on—it just makes real pupils appear for me. Which is all to say that each word has some point of origin (even if I don’t always remember), and then they start to mean something different in the poem. It’s really a chicken-egg sort of thing. So yeah, I can see how whatever turns up on the Internet could be useful for getting closer to my poems, in the way that all things that turn up on the internet can be useful. There’s no trick answer though.

You can read the full interview at Heavy Feather Review. And please watch the delightful hijinks of Akant and "Cheburashka" below. You're welcome!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1sGfBIa7xw