10 Questions for Geoffrey Brock
- By Emily Wojcik
Having risen from a branch of the Ni River
during a lull in the Battle of Spotsylvania,
she settled on the blue upper lip of a dead
Confederate corporal, weary. . . .
—from “The Mayfly: May 12, 1864,” Volume 60, Issue 1 (Spring 2019)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
The first “serious” poem I ever wrote, by which I mean the first poem I wrote that wasn’t inspired by my own run-of-the-mill teenage heartbreak, was inspired by the teenage heartbreak of two fictional characters, Gretta Conroy and Michael Furey, in Joyce’s great story “The Dead.” I felt as though I’d been affected as deeply by that story as I’d been by things that had actually happened to me. It was not the first time I had been profoundly moved by my reading, but for some reason it was the first time that my reading moved me to writing. In the years since, though many of my poems have been and continue to be written in response to events or emotions from my own lived experience, many others have been written at least partly in response to other texts. “The Mayfly” is such a poem—a response to Miroslav Holub’s great poem “The Fly.” I don’t know what to say about that exactly, except that I think that our reading is not distinct from our experience, but part of it, and that the two shape each other.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
This is always hard to say. I presume I’m influenced to some degree, positively or negatively, by all the writers I read closely, which of course includes the writers I translate. But I try not to think too much about it and would rather leave that question to others.
What did you want to be when you were young?
I wanted to be a herpetologist for quite a while. Later, when I started college, I was a computer science major, before a semester abroad in Italy redirected me toward the arts.
What inspired you to write this piece?
Couple things. I’d been reading and thinking a lot about the Civil War when I wrote my last book, Voices Bright Flags. Then toward the end of that project I began thinking a lot about the continuum between translation, imitation, and original writing. My career as a translator and my career as a poet had long proceeded along parallel but decidedly separate tracks, yet I was becoming increasingly interested in blurring the lines between them. Somehow, I began thinking about Holub’s poem, which I’ve long admired for the way it turns historical event into political poetry and disrupts the usual human sense of scale and perspective, and it occurred to me that one way of “translating” it would be to transpose it to a different cultural and historical context. The Civil War was already on my mind, and the Battle of Spotsylvania seemed an apt example of an extremely bloody yet largely pointless engagement.
Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
I often don’t listen to anything when I’m writing or revising, but when I do I prefer it to be something without lyrics—usually classic jazz or sometimes ambient music in the vein of Brian Eno or Ludovico Einaudi.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
I probably should.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
My wife, Padma Viswanathan, and I are each other’s first readers.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
What are you working on currently?
A new collection of poems—not sure about the title yet.
What are you reading right now?
Like a Fading Shadow, by Antonio Muñoz Molina.
GEOFFREY BROCK is the author of two poetry collections, the editor of The FSG Book of 20th-Century Italian Poetry, and the translator of numerous volumes of Italian poetry and prose. He teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Translation at the University of Arkansas, where he founded and edits The Arkansas International.