In Conversation with Katia Grubisic

photo by J. Parr
A few weeks ago I caught up with Katia Grubisic over a beverage at one of our favorite drinkeries. We talked between bites of extravagantly delicious cheese and bread.

SUSAN GILLIS: How did you first come to poetry?

KATIA GRUBISIC: I only heard this story a few years ago, long after my apparent début. Apparently, when I was about three, I marched into the living room, planted myself there and declaimed “La nuit est noire. La nuit / est noire.” The line break is my father’s recollection, or addition. Observed detail with figurative implications, the undermining and expanding of repetition…. Ta-dah!

I could very well have become a Duke of Hazzard, and now be recounting the family lore in which Katia refused to get in or out of the car except through the window. But I’ve had that little, inexplicable poetry elf whispering in my ear for as long as I can remember: lines, ways of looking at the world. I also recall that first awareness that there exists such a thing as craft, or editing—in high school, I had an a-ha moment when a teacher suggested a thesaurus and white space, and, later, reading closely and separating the self from the object of the poem, which open up exciting edits. Who does the poem want to be? Where does it want to go?

SG: You are fluent or comfortable in more than a couple of languages. How does this linguistic flexibility shape and influence your poems?

KG: Living in multiple languages can’t help but change not just the way we write, but the way we are, though it’s impossible to know our different, multiple selves. Professionally speaking, I run into it all the time—fighting for a borrowed neologism in an article, trying to convince myself that a gallicism will be understood in a translation when I’m really just being lazy, forgetting words at readings because another language clearly does it better… I try not to dissect the genesis of poems, but I think the multiple linguistic layers are most present at the early stages, when opposite meanings, similar words, or even just echoes that only I apparently hear, pop up. In What if red ran out, for instance, there is a poem called “Loose Rope Tantrum,” about a tightrope walker. In Spanish, cuerda floja literally means loose rope, which got me, and the poem’s tightrope walker, going. Of course, you don’t have to actually speak a language to have meaning sparked that way, and, in any event, most of those sparks are indiscernible by the time a poem is fully on fire.

SG: What are you reading now?

KG: My pile includes a Williams Carlos Williams selected to which I’ve kept returning, and Steven Heighton’s recent collection of short stories, The Dead Are More Visible. And I love, love Colum McCann, but for some reason haven’t really been able to get into his last novel TransAtlantic. Also a bunch of books on torture, violence and martyrdom.

Katia Grubisic is a writer, editor and translator. Her work has appeared in various Canadian and international publications, and her collection of poems What if red ran out won the Gerald Lampert award for best first book. Read her poem "Paradise, Dam, North Shore" here.