PT: I’ve focused on passages that make possible the meeting or give access to concentration and depth. Walter Benjamin takes the opposite position in The Arcades Project: to capture the transient and the diversionary, the multifarious and the fragmented. I sense a presence in both forms of perception. For me, exorbitant accumulations and quick impressions are often the prerequisite for a deep-going perspective. In any case, The Arcades Project gave me special pleasure during the writing of The Whales in Paris, and my book encompasses both overt and covert connections to Benjamin’s writing.
KES: Though haunting in their own right, the poems in The Whales in Paris have a lighter, more hopeful quality to them. The title poem celebrates “freedom for the soul,” for instance, and “Happy Hour” honors the “breathless wonder” of life on earth. Even the concluding poem, “The Silence After Us” — which opens with the line “There is one day left” and was written on December 31, 1999 — seems ultimately hopeful in that it finds “patterns” out of “chaos.” Is this a fair assessment of The Whales in Paris?
PT: The world exists on the strength of poles and electrical currents, political, social, cultural, etc. And I adhere to the Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelöf’s view that human beings are battlefields. Ekelöf says that it isn’t the dragon or the knight who loses his life — it’s the virgin. She is the one who, like us, must fight. She vacillates, he says, and therefore is in balance: a telling picture of how our lives are influenced by strength and weakness, a balancing act, where a moment’s inattention can prove catastrophic. The body always has at least one wound — and the Earth has the same. It’s under these conditions that art is created. Against a backdrop of wars, destruction, psychic terror, that which causes pain. Art doesn’t necessarily need to make a politically explicit theme of this, but without a vested interest, poetry will hardly move the reader. Since I was a child, I’ve been interested in the world; it’s in everything I write. But mostly I choose an existential approach. It’s from here that I can speak — and I do that with hope. Let me also cite the Danish poet Ivan Malinovski. The title of one of his poems goes like this: Live as if there is a future and a hope. That’s also my view.