KES: The imagery throughout Tarkovsky’s Horses suggests a confused mental state. “Signs have been switched about,” for example, “roads have acquired different names.” How hard was it for you to write about such a personal experience— and, at the same time, give it the necessary poetic language to make it art while being true to the emotional experience at the heart of it?(via WLT)
PT: I wrote in the hope that my father would still be with me. Or that I could be with him a little longer. My mother was relieved when my father died; she had lived through all the grief when he was alive. I’d only glimpsed it, so I mourned differently. Naturally, I was filled with sorrow while writing the poems, but I was also buoyant and elated. That surprised me! My father was dead, but the material was very alive when I wrote. It was his presence that called forth the myth of Orpheus, even though the relation here is father-daughter and not the lover’s relationship. What is shared is that in each case the dead are there. That was a decisive point in the process, when I put the poems in Eurydice’s mouth and didn’t simply speak personally. Early on I knew that these poems were about many other people besides my father and me. With these poems I wanted to make my father so close that he could be, when he was now dead. . . . Death is not a fact that the poems try to change, but by writing the poems, I wrote—like Eurydice—my father out of the shadows and into the light. The Orpheus myth is very masculine. Orpheus leads his beloved up from the underworld. In the myth the woman isn’t just passive, she’s also dead. The myth’s dead woman has always provoked me. She alone is made into an object. But Eurydice has also had her own life, right? She must’ve had a father, whose death she also once mourned. I imagine—against the grain of the traditional view—that Eurydice must have had her joys and her worries. I try to turn the myth from the extreme objectification of the woman and make Eurydice stronger by giving her voice and life. In Tarkovsky’s Horses, she isn’t just a statue. For me, she becomes the opposite: a catalyst. I go into her life long before she’s retrieved from the underworld, and before Orpheus comes into the picture. Eurydice has both a longing after love and to belong to a communicative world — as opposed to the silent underworld. So Tarkovsky’s Horses turns the Eurydice figure from being a dead object into a living, thinking, and talking subject. The myth meant a transformation of the personal material, and maybe it was the myth that made it possible to write the book?
The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice relates a precondition for art: the sacrifice of the beloved. In the traditional myth, Eurydice is away and must be resurrected. Orpheus loses Eurydice, but gets the power to “create.” He creates life from death by bringing forth the conception of Eurydice. In a short synopsis one can say that Orpheus loses his beloved, but wins the poem. The Orpheus myth is, in the same way, a myth about inspiration. As a woman poet I therefore find it necessary to make my stand in relation to it. In the myth, the voice is connected to the man. A woman poet can either choose to identify with Orpheus and de-prioritize her gender, or she can give voice to Eurydice. In any case, I have given Eurydice a more central position than I have seen elsewhere. It wasn’t the plan, but it grew on its own when I wrote. One can say that the original myth is gone in my treatment of it, or one can imagine my take on the myth as a counterpoint, a widening of it, what I myself wished — because it really interests me. This is a new telling, where Eurydice retrieves her dead father. A dead father cannot be reclaimed but can be revitalized in words, in poems. It’s really not the same as if he were resurrected to life.
KES: If Tarkovsky’s Horses is an emotional response to a father’s illness and death, The Whales in Paris seems an intellectual response to “insight’s expanding and constantly vibrating chaos.” Yet each book is informed by the haunting spectre of death, and in many ways it’s “death” that forms a red thread between the two books. Thematically speaking, how do you feel about seeing these two books published together in English?
PT: You’re right: Death is central to both books. From the very beginning of my career, death has always been a focus in my poems. But when you’re a young poet and a woman, reviewers sometimes concentrate solely on the erotic elements. Back then I was angry about this treatment. Today I’m only proud if readers find an erotic spark in the poems. But it’s misleading not to notice death. The two collections are connected to each other. They have the same structure, the same movement, and the same layout. It’s an advantage to read them together. But I’m writing the third book now. For many years I have worked in triumvirate fashion — thesis, antithesis, and synthesis—or, at the very least, with a group of books that enter into dialogue with one another. I hope that Bloodaxe will one day publish a volume including this third book. But as The Whales in Paris was published in 2002 and Tarkovsky’s Horses in 2006, I’m happy to see a translation. The third book will probably be published in Denmark in 2010. There’s an insight in every collection, but The Whales in Paris has a special background. Walter Benjamin’s Das Passagenwerk (Arcades Project) was a huge inspiration, even though I use the concept of “passage” in my own way. In the notes to the book I write: “A type of passage-thought—the shift from one state to another—has fascinated me from my first book, Når der går hul på en engel (When an angel breaks her silence), and it’s no coincidence that bridges and gates have since been in many of my titles. “The poem is a possible meeting place,” I write in my poetics, Over vandet går jeg (Walking over the Water).