10 Questions for Alisha Dietzman
- By Edward Clifford
I should write more about America and us naked in a river.
You called me a coward as you pulled off your clothes.
Not wanting to be a coward, I pulled off my clothers
The midnight of a night slipping
—from “Love Poem without Light,” Volume 62, Issue 2 (Summer 2021)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
The first poem I wrote that made me feel like a poet spanned 14 sections and over 30 pages. I had read The Waste Land a few [dozen] times. I was 21. A friend for whom I had unrequited romantic feelings surprised me by signing me up to read [excerpts, thankfully] from said poem at a small talent night. In the end, I walked out with a toy truck, one of several prizes for the evening [I still have this truck], and a date. So I thought, ok, poetry, maybe.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Influences are a little strange to me. I’m not sure I’ve ever read something and thought ‘I want to write like that,’ but I’ve definitely read work before that made me think ‘I want to write in a way that makes me feel like that [text] made me feel.’ I think there also has to be a challenge of some form to the work; it needs to make me think my writing isn’t reaching the places it might go. Some writers currently challenging/moving me and a few that are always with me: Svetlana Alexievich, Emil Cioran, Elfriede Jelinek, Bohumil Hrabal, Frank Stanford, John Donne. Three books of poetry I read recently that I found myself thinking about a lot/feeling challenged by: Shane McCrae’s Sometimes I Never Suffered, Sam Riviere’s After Fame, and Chessy Normile’s Great Exodus, Great Wall, Great Party. Non-literary texts I’m interested in at the moment: Big Love, Marlene Dumas’ paintings, Miroslav Tichý’s photographs, Dušan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie, František Vláčil’s Marketa Lazarová.
What other professions have you worked in?
I’ve worked as a dishwasher, a paraeducator, taught creative writing and English language, and for a time I was a somewhat inept server at a wonderful restaurant [Pullman Bar and Diner; go there if you’re in Iowa City].
What did you want to be when you were young?
For many years, I wanted to be an astronaut or a herpetologist. Space and crocodilians are two of my greatest fears and most all-consuming passions. [Personal favorite crocodilians: saltwater crocodiles and the American alligator.]
What inspired you to write this piece?
One of the best summers of my life in one of the worst studio apartments in a part of rural America I knew nothing about, and no one. I lived across the street from a Grocery Outlet where I bought wine and peaches. I read a lot. I was very happy. Also nude beaches, and God [they’re all about God]. And those three girls! I remember them very clearly, drinking bottled cokes in nice dresses, quietly.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
I recently virtually visited a friend’s elementary school class as a “guest speaker” and the students had to fill out little cards detailing where I was from. One student wrote: no, which was perfect. I think I have an uneasy relationship with place in my writing that stems from an uneasy relationship with place in my life. I’ve moved back and forth between Europe and the US since childhood, and while place is incredibly significant in my poems, it is always observed from this weird, slight distance.
Some cityscapes/landscapes that hold particular meaning: Prague, Czechia [where I lived on and off from 1995-2007, and my parents have lived for 26 years], South Carolina [my home state], Eastern Arkansas [where much of my family is from], Dundee [Scotland], and lately, the American West, particularly Eastern Washington.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
I feel like poems come and go and I have no control over their coming and going, so I pray.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
My academic work is in philosophy of art, primarily visual art, so I am fascinated by [visual] artists. I’d love to paint. Otherwise, I’ve wished before I had another life as a verve-y, difficult, mid-century European filmmaker just consumed by the smallest erotic details. I actually do a bit of printmaking and bookmaking, so I guess I do work in other art forms to a degree.
What are you working on currently?
The honest answer is mostly my dissertation. When I’m thinking about poems, I’ve been interested in gendered expectations for religious expression and experience.
What are you reading right now?
To follow the previous question, lots of books for my dissertation. Presently Slavoj Žižek’s The Sublime Object of Ideology, Theodor Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory, Juliane Rebentisch’s The Art of Freedom, and Wendy Brown’s Undoing the Demos are all hanging out at my feet, and honestly, I’d recommend any of them. I do try to motivate myself to read outside of work, and when I have time, it’s one of the things that brings me back into the land of the living. Books unrelated to my academic work that I have recently started and am very excited to continue: The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector, Emporium by Aditi Machado, Poker by Tomaž Šalamun, Upend by Claire Meuschke.
ALISHA DIETZMAN was raised in the American South and central Europe. She lives in Dundee, Scotland, where she is a PhD candidate in divinity at the University of St. Andrews, supported by a grant from the US-UK Fulbright Commission. Her poetry has appeared in Ploughshares, Pleiades, Bennington Review, and elsewhere.