alena koukouchev

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pragmatica repetitious ~ 1992 / 2014 > poetry book re-print >

 

 

cover design by wassily blossfeledt, 2014 ~ artwork by (c) fabio panuchi [symphony no.5]

alena koukouchev 2014 [photograph by wassily blossfeldt, 2014]

 

Benjamin Silva-Pereira interviews ALENA KOUKOUCHEV about PRAGMATICA REPETITIOUS,

this interview first appeared published in the poetry book first edition in april 2014 > an extended version of interview and the book itself was printed june 2014, second edition.

  

BENJAMIN SILVA-PEREIRA: This relatively new form, the interview, is paradoxical, if well done. It eliminates the distance between the adored and the adorer. We end up always interviewing ourselves.

 

ALENA KOUKOUCHEV: That is the reason why I just gave two interviews during all these years of being relatively known in the grass of the printed poetry. In America I didn't give any interview. It is a social and personal affair. On one side the interviewer wants to know about me but I tend to hide myself as much as I can, make a fool of myself or just be indifferent and pretend to be someone or something utterly different. I was interviewed for a job last month and the questions were so irrelevant that I almost fell asleep. I rather prefer memoirs, even the fake ones, the ghostly ones (written by other people but the author). I am not talking about biographies or auto - that is decadent per se and humiliates the subject countless times, as if people wanted to know the most inner and anaesthetic uninteresting things you have inside... I admire the memoirs of Gore Vidal immensely, powerful, beautiful simply written. Delight. I won't be writing mine, too troubled a person, my brain is divided into diverse Atlases and Maps - I really do not know how to converse about myself, and that is the reason, major and ultimate. I moved from the States, that mediocre, deficient and prejudiced so-called Bastion of the world, because I am not able to continue producing my own things, they want me to explain everything and why this and why not?

 

B.: You write autobiographically, and those worlds you just referred are your writing. Naked self-interview or analysis?

 

A.K.: I find solace in people and writing, reading. More in writing than in people. I find my writings to be mirrors, and that involve refraction, reflection, distortion and sometimes a mirror is broken... In a way I find solace in putting those broken pieces together and they may not make sense to others but they ultimately refer to my own experiences and the maintenance of Memory, the Archive of Moments and Infractions, when the words are on the pages. I gather immense Pleasure and Fulfilment in my two sons as they grew up and as they come and go and speak and illustrate my days endlessly. They are my writing too; my studies and teaching classes are my work, the voices of the Past that illuminate my days are also very present. So, my poetry is also my Memoirs, my Will and Testament, the non-existing interview, which makes this one very difficult to you. I suspect we need biographical facts, social comment, witty remarks and aphorisms of a certain kind, and those would be a kind of anachronism as I permanently seem to live in the past. Which is not true either. I am not virtue's reluctant Mother! I am actually always against Society and fighting with all the weapons I have at my disposal. That is another reason for writing, and leaving America. So, yes, if you want to know me it won't be through the processes of an interview, for more articulate it is. My work is I.

 

B.: Atlases and Maps, you said.

 

A.K.: Those are representations of what we take for Knowledge or for Certain, which is, most obviously, wrong, a futile exercise in trying to control Nature. Abstract representations of dominance and politics and control, the planet is not at all like that. In my case I adventure to call that because of the same reasons. Parts of me are what I try them to be, compartments, excuses, really, to ordain and organise My Self and the world. The Atlases are most important in my psyche, maps are just references. My own Atlas is divided in intersections of moments, and in those moments places and people or peoples. Maps are just incidents, mistakes, a post or a sign, a locale or an accident. Maps are volatile, Atlases are more permanent, there exist my anchors: my parents, my sons and their progenitor, people I adore and live for; in these Atlas there are sections of moments and people I never met but I study, and they are extremely important for my growth as a human being, as a voracious Madimi that wants to show the world her pudenda and laugh at it. Maps represents those other around, present and past that I acknowledge but in a certain way are not my focus or matter of study. There are too many things to explore and study and investigate. And poetry is not just words and emotions or the description of them, or of landscape of or a moment. Poetry is the unsound explanation of the My World, the place where things come together and open themselves to Philosophy and Argument. Nothing is out of Poetry, let it be a moment or an epic of a story, instantaneous insignificant scraps or the resurgence of mysteries explained!

 

B.: Which might explain your use of references related to Esoterica and Saturnalia?

 

A.K.: In a certain way you may be right. Possibly is more convoluted and abstract, or more difficult. I love the signs and signals from the past that are obscured by secret rites and pseudo-philosophies, the studies of the Sage and Magus that were searching for things they do not understand or that they fabricated based on false premises and foundations. The oddness of searching for the Water of Life, or to convert any metal into gold, which involves intricate theories and purifications of the Mind, the Soul as they called it. It is a laugh and an entertainment for me. I find them very courageous at the very same time, spending a whole life in search of something that doesn't exist; it is, of course, the meaning of Life, the search for it when there is nothing to look for, there is no meaning for our Life, at all. Even reproduction is a false religious proclivity. I do not have a faith but I use frequently the image, the poetic alteration or vision of a Pure Holy Virgin Mary, through the miasma of the Catholic distortion of women. She has got a very significant importance in my life. The virgin is, after all, Maia, the ancestral woman, the giver of life, the mother of all, and those paradigms were absorbed and robbed by the men in robes, the priests, the eunuchs of religion to enrapture the terrestrial other women, they created yet another prison to keep women living on, subjugated and controlled. To me those are the real stories about Mary, the usage of her figure and myth. Nevertheless I was born in Sofia and I lived there five years and I was very lucky. Sofia is the city of Mary, the capital of her breasts and lips, the capital is pregnant with her images, for me she was and is, since my beginnings, the image anchor of what is to be a woman, she became the portrait of Purity and Exile, both at the very same time. Sofia is filled with churches that were temples of Roman Gods turned Christian turned Mosques turned churches again, there is a pornography of this revolving of a place metamorphosing itself into different religions. It is part of my Atlas, whether I like it or not. My mother was herself named Maria and she used to sing in the main cathedral. If you listen to traditional and classical Bulgarian women's singing you will agree with me that it is absolute, powerful, and sometimes even evil because it is so otherworldly and unusual. More when Bulgaria was under communist control. Singing traditional songs was a pure demonstration of love to the land and costumes. Valya Balkanska was friends with my mother, Stefan Mutafchiev was around frequently, he was best friends with my father. Do not forget that I was reading and writing when I was five years of age, precocious little monkey I was, they called me the pigmy, so little and growing in manners so fast! Sofia was an enchanting place for me, the place where alphabets were invented, and what can a person wish for? The place of knowledge and creation, the capital of translation which is the vehicle to transmit ideas and orders! Sofia has always been the place of Poetry, which is where I wanted to arrive. Atanas Dalchev, Kostantin Pavlov use to hide in our house, the communists closed the country to any outside influence and splendid people would come and hide for a day or two with us; father was a member of the Party, high rank, but not stupid, and protected and actually transported many manuscripts never published in Bulgaria and that saw the light of the day 'miraculously' outside, in Europe. He used his position as Ambassador to help and divulge the new scriptures of poets and novelists, Valeri Nisim Mevorah was another guest in our house in Sofia and even abroad where he came to visit. [...]

 

[...] In Athens a beautiful different world opened to me, as we moved there in a diplomatic mission. Father gathered many important figures around him, cultured or influential ones. The influential ones were the funniest and more interesting, and they loved me, a blonde little mischievous girl that very early learned how to speak Greek and write in the polytonic and monotonic orthographies. I was very lucky. There was a general who would come for dinner almost every week and he would be driven by a chauffeur in a black Mercedes Benz and every week he would bring a different guest with him, always big young men dressed au point and with perfect teeth. All knew he was queer but no one would utter a word about it. I met his wife and she was happy as a clown. She took me to visit all Athens, especially the magnificent Orthodox little churches in caves by the sea and in town, she took me to museums and used to buy me ice-cream and show me off to her friends. She had lots of young men friends also, and when I stayed with her in the palace they would have lots of parties where they sat naked by the pool. At six I had my first sexual experience with her daughter, precisely my age and actually very similar in looks to me. It was brilliant and beautiful. I miss those times immensely. She gave me 'The Histories' by Herodotus in Greek, the first book I remember loving too much. I could quote paragraphs of it to the party guests at the embassy. She had the same name as I, Alina, which means light, by the way. The fat general was called Adonis, but funny enough I don't recall their surnames. I think my interest for Antiquity and its stories come from this period. There this incessant sense of wonder and discovery at all times, you just have to start and you are transported into another Time, which is stupendous. Never read another book as important as 'The Histories'; been surprised and enchanted but never like that gift of a discovery. [...] I rarely read poetry, if ever, at least I do not study it at all. I study music and books, romance, novels, memoirs, cartography tomes... I am interested in the chromatic patterns of language and stories. I adore inventions, lies, I am engulfed in the mystery and uselessness of 'The Voynich Manuscript', completely out of this world, beautifully illustrated with all these plants that do not exist and an invented language that resists any kind of attempt to be decoded. I envy the person or people who manufactured it, geniuses, completely. I just re-read the diaries of John Dee and they are magnificent, scandalous and funny. Intrigues me these volumes of conversations with angels and spirits, Madimi being my favourite ever, these people's belief in a hierarchy of angles and degrees of sanctity and the languages they invented, Molochian, Adamic... My own way and to a certain extent I try to do this in my writing and create on the printed page my world as I experience it, as I imagine it could be and all the variants that makes Literature so poignant and alive.

 

two pages from pragmatica repetitious, first edition, april 2014

 

B.: You were accused as being esoteric and hermetic on (The New York) Review of Books magazine, 'a waste of time for those who do connect with the epigraphs of classical obscurity themes.' What surprised me first was that the reviewer tried to copy your own way of writing, and trying at the same time to bulldozer your work.

 

A.K.: That is most fun, indeed. I take it very lightly as I know perfectly well that my writing may be titled Rocócó, among other things. Then I rarely think or even read reviews but that one was execrably funny and a waste o paper, ink and time. The result was that the publisher had to print more books, and books of poetry are not that much read or reprinted. It is a very nice consolation that people were interested about this foreign woman so full of herself and that wrote in abstract diphthongs and rescued words and names of the past. The same happened to my beloved mad friend Frank Bidart, the reprinting of more books, I mean. The Review of Books adore him. 'You lodged your faith in Art - which gives us pattern, process with the flesh all stuck to it.' I love this poem of his, it is rich and simple, supple for thought and investigation. No information, no exercises in experimenting, just that, an aphorism much truer than full books by many authors.

 

B.: As Ginsberg and Kerouac, you have the conviction that the first thought is the best thought... You said on interview number two.

 

A.K.: When I arrived in the States I found it devastated, pale, obsolescent, ridiculous, fat and hypocritical. Writers, teachers and professors and students and publishers and anyone i met were trying to deceive one another. That still applies, and now more than ever. Nevertheless I am very grateful for these long years I lived there, it brought me consolations, affinities, friendships, a partner and two sons. And books like never before. Per semester I had only twenty four classes, in total no more than one hundred and o hours. The biggest part of the readings of contemporary American authors was atrocious and banal, degraded, lost in their own lies, as I said, deceiving themselves, there was in the nineties much literature to be read, therefore I discovered just as I arrived the poetry and novels of the Beat Generation, a bunch of subversive saints and upholders of what I always thought poetry is: blood, spunk, shit, skin, pus, pearls... I embraced some of the Beats mottos and techniques, that were mine already, but I was not very well aware of them, because I write not thinking in what I do, I do not censure or correct much of what comes out of an almost automatic writing that is, obviously, suggested by my observations and previous readings and experiences in life. It was my partner that introduced the Beats to me, on our second date he had a book of interviews from the 'Gay Sunshine' magazine, and that made me think he was gay. Ninety Two, in the beginning of the year. I read them all and I discovered many new authors I never heard before, which is not surprising for a girl of twenty two. (Roger) Peyrafitte, (William) Burroughs, (Allen) Ginsberg, (Christopher) Isherwood, (John) Rechy, (Gore) Vidal, (Tennessee) Williams, and then my partner offered me books by (Jack) Kerouac, and Robert Creeley and one of my favourites was (Charles) Olson, etc. So my second education was based on these novels and the poems are enthusiastic and true, veloce, rapace and, above all, wise but immediate, it was obvious for me that they didn't pretend to themselves, they lived what those lines described and taught; that was and is a magical time. There is no spunk in poetry nowadays and no one is interested in it anyway. [...] Oh, I brought this from the States (she goes to a wall and brings me a frame with a printed list) - Now, this is my guide, you should publish this, but I do not know if you have to pay royalties, it is Kerouac's.

 

Belief & Technique For Modern Prose a List of Essentials:

 

1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages for yr own joy

2. Submissive to everything, open, listening

3. Try never to get drunk outside yr house

4. Be in love with yr life

5. Something that you feel will find its own form

6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind

7. Blow as deep as you want to blow

8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind

9. The unspeakable visions of the individual

10. No time for poetry but exactly what it is

11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest

12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you

13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition

14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time

15. telling the true story of the world in interior monolog

16. The jewel centre of interest is the eye within the eye

17. Write in recollection and amazement of yourself

18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea

19. Accept loss forever

20. Believe in the holy contour of life

21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind

22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better

23. Keep track of everyday the date emblazoned in yr morning

24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language, & knowledge

25. Write the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it

26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form

27. In Praise of Character in the bleak inhuman Loneliness

28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better

29. You're a genius all the time

30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

 

A.K.: Obvious point ten is out of question, but i understand what that meant for him. Very possibly if I was a novelist I would follow that commandment. But I am not, so I write poetry in a strange way. The fact that I was teaching Comparative Literature help this discovery of mine, i could relate in a gut-level with the Beats and still love the old fantastic texts.

 

two pages from pragmatica repetitious, first edition, april 2014

 

B.: 'Pragmatica Repetitious', is being reprinted here in the United Kingdom. You spent time editing the text and there are new parts for the collection, and pictures.

A.K.: Yes, twenty two years ago I published it and I thought it was time for a revision of sorts, as the original edition didn't fulfil the promise and the desire it contained, it was much bigger and intricate. For several reasons I was lead to think that the cuts made sense, which they didn't. I was in love and pregnant and happy, so I didn't mind too much about the editing. Now it will resemble the original idea, though I lost some of the original poems on it; I wrote a few stanzas more and changed the order of some of the poems. To me it makes sense the way it is now. PRAGMATICA STIGMATA MAGMA STIGMA SMEGMA REPETITION. That was the original title too, long and dirty, but I grew accustomed to the second title, even without the subtitle. The paintings are just diversions to make people smile, I included.

 

B.: Referring to your earthling wonderings, where do you belong?

 

A.K.: Good question, good question... [she pauses for more than a minute] I decided to belong to the world but my roots are Bulgarian and much more Athenian, more than Greek. Even the Athens pollution is better than London's recent smog or Los Angeles gasoline fumes. Strange as it is, once I decided I was Mediterranean, Aegean, I was consoled and free to travel the world and be myself. It was in Athens that I learned the love for young men and Literature, so I am forever lost on those territories, they are a great chunk of my Personal Atlas. Leaving Athens was a sacrifice I needed to make, and like the other one said: 'until you have experienced profound sadness, you cannot experience profound happiness, and that I experienced in the States when I gave birth to my two boys. I never had tenderness' deficit because I always had my passions for books and people; my private loves. It is indeed very easy to say this, but as Euripides said 'you hear men and women swear they love somebody more than themselves. those are easy words; the act is hard; proof of the oath is hard.' I love my sons as I love myself, and I love others as I love myself, of that I do not have any doubt. So, I must belong to myself and Athens and I think I have the ability to embody others inside of me, like (Fernando) Pessoa and I am multiple being myself. Thus the layered frictions and levels of dialogue, the pragmatica, in my writing. It is Love, indeed that feeds me. I can be very shallow and use words just for a glimpse of devotion and artistry, but what makes move my Logos, my soul is love, it is in Love that we live, like Socrates well said, we transcend ourselves when we love someone else. This is my territory, my Motherland.

 

B.: 'Layered frictions and levels of dialogue', I do like that and much more in 'Pragmatica Repetitious' how you change, almost not notifying the reader, into another voice. Then you return to the original voice and it changes again, abruptly into what we guess is another volte face or another idiom through another voice...

 

A.K.: It is the nature of my writing and of myself. When I moved to the States in Ninety Two things happened too quickly. I was not expected to have so much time in my hands, I couldn't believe my luck in having so much money to teach what I adore, I for sure never expected to fall in love and, above all, getting pregnant at that age. So I went through moments of ecstasy and of immense depression, which sometimes is the same thing! One day I just stumble upon the scenario of a woman in front of an oven and thinking about killing herself for loving a young man that she seduced in a MacDonald's, and he being undecided about his sexuality. That brought images of Greece and past adventures when I fell in love with gay boys and we had beautiful friendships to the point that I wanted to be a man! So this image of the perfect Greek effeminate boy came to mind. I thought it was a great image and a great story to put down on verse, and Kinaidos (male prostitute) happened. And being Greek, it had to be a Greek love, a Greek story. Suddenly I was the old Warrior guarding the fortress of the Labyrinth, one thing just brought the other in a fast sequence and I immediately put it on paper. All the comparisons and metaphors came from this ambivalence of sexes and sexuality. It felt just right and omniscient, due to my life at the time, I was in love with a man twenty years older than I and I craved for something or someone puerile and beautiful, it was a reversal of lived images, a fly of fancy and subversion. Very healthy this, I thought, and it was.

 

B.: I am touched because you didn't say 'Layered fictions and levels of dialogue', you used 'frictions'. Is the poem true, that you really imagined it or that it came from real experience of life? Am I intruding or should I ask academic magazine questions like 'Is the poet's responsibility towards craftsmanship that of exercising taste and discretion in deciding on the final form of the poem?' Exactly as The Paris Review interviewer asked Charles Olson and that infuriated him, like all the other questions; or is it that your 'writing', your 'work' being you yourself can be discussed in all openness?

 

A.K.: I did change things in this reprinting. In the original there was no reference to my sons, unborn yet at the time, but for this one I stated that they were sleeping upstairs. My partner is not mentioned too for the same reason, I was not sure of what was going on on my mind and with my body. So, the story was a mix of wishful thinking, the desires burning my guts, the illusion or fantasy of wanting someone else, the baby in my belly, the construction of a fiction between the memories of the past, the reality of the present and a prospect of a deviant future. That question and interview you referred is actually quite poignant. I exercise a strong editing, a mental one, consciously or not, while I write. Afterwards it is difficult for me to change anything.

 

B.: Who really is 'the warrior' in Pragmatica Repetitious?

 

A.K.: Once again it is I. A disguise, a mask, here we go again, the Greek mask. As Kinaidos is a mask of myself also, a conglomerate of different thoughts, perceptions and analyses of my world. A real Fiction. Sometimes I feel very masculine and I am the Warrior, other times I feel feminine and I am Kinaidos. Do not forget of the importance of what others call the degenerate and underground, the under classes, the slaves of past and present worlds, the hidden, the camouflaged. Kinaidos, in Greece of ancient times was an effeminate boy or young man that was procured by free men of the high classes for sexual services. Pregnant as I was, and I really didn't expect or wanted the pregnancy, I searched for a refuge, a way out. The dream of seducing someone like a male prostitute and having an affair was a demented idea, a subterfuge, the construction of another part of my very Personal Labyrinth.

 

two pages from pragmatica repetitious, first edition, april 2014

 

B.: That is a question I wanted to ask, why do you always use subtitles for your collections of poetry and they are always related to the Labyrinth of Crete?

 

A.K.: Oh! The Long And Insignificant Drafts For The Labyrinth of Crete. This idea of building in time a portrait of who I am is, indeed, the search for my persona and character; it comes from the age of learning to write and read, very early in my life, Sofia with its streets and multitudes of religious buildings, the city of bishops and cathedrals, churches, minarets, mosques, temples, they are a labyrinthine synecdoche. I was and I am very attracted to buildings, thus the Labyrinth, I adore architecture in all its forms, the shapes, the use houses hads along the times, it tells a lot about the places and eras. I learned the story of the Labyrinth of Knossos very early in my childhood and the Minotaur figure entranced me, I felt it could really exist and it would be really formidable and stupendous. Later I learned more details of the story and young women were given to the Minotaur for it to copulate. Arianne and her love, pure love for Icarus and his death were very appealing and romantic. It really filled my mind with immense stories and dreams, and since then I wish to build, physically, literally a maze. I found it through poetry where I found the time and the place to exorcise ghosts, create new ones, just like music composers re-create new art from the past. Going back to the Warrior, I felt that I had to have someone to protect this new construction and he had to be someone with experience and knowledge of It and the world. The old warrior is the guardian of the Labyrinth and of my creations. We all are like this, but different people create different defences. My Labyrinth of Crete has all these monsters and other I assimilated, Madimi included, that force of the Angels, an angel herself, a spirit with mischievous sexuality that is ready to shock who invoked her just for a laugh. It says very much about the invoker, John Dee, she was a mirage returned that reclaimed his frustrations of repressed sexuality. I think this because I do not believe in Spirits as other people do and did. The Warrior is the projection of myself into a situation of power, but soon I realized that even if he is invented as I go along he becomes himself and has weaknesses like a real person, I reflect and refract on the way I construed him. To me that is poetry. So, every time I published a new volume of poems it was another part of the Labyrinth I built, a wing of that building, another part of me.

Richmond Upon Thames, April 2014.

 

 

photograph & art by alena koukouchev (c) 2014

 

two pages from pragmatica repetitious, first edition, april 2014

 

photograph & art by alena koukouchev (c) 2014

 

photograph & art by alena koukouchev (c) 2014

 

photograph & art by alena koukouchev (c) 2014

 

photograph & art by alena koukouchev (c) 2014

 

 

 

photograph & art by alena koukouchev (c) 2014