Friday, October 1, 2021

Margo LaPierre: Spelunking Language : An interview with Nicola Vulpe






Through the Waspmouth I Drew You (Guernica Editions, 2021) marries the precise yet nuanced language of Nicola Vulpe’s earlier work with new, invented vocabularies and usages. This collection draws deep into the origins of language to confront what it means to write poetry or attempt any artistic endeavour, or, indeed, continue in a world where so many of us struggle. Written to be read aloud, Through the Waspmouth I Drew You is a synesthetic work that arouses our senses and our intellect. 

Margo LaPierre: In your inventive linguistic work in this collection, you often combine two and sometimes three words together for great compounds such as “woundtickler,” “electronsmudgespins” and “pinkinnocence.” What effect did you intend or perceive with this craft decision?

Nicola Vulpe: This question about Through the Waspmouth I Drew You keeps coming back to haunt me. It’s an excellent question, but if the question coming up so regularly means that Waspmouth remains simply a linguistic curiosity, then I’ve failed.

I’d suggest that all poets play with language, and that I also do so in my other work. The difference with Waspmouth is that here I do so flagrantly.

I’m a great admirer of Nicanor Parra, who wrote what he termed anti-poems, which I understand as poems that don’t call attention to themselves as poetic. With Waspmouth I went very much the other way; as you point out, the language calls attention to itself.

Mulling it over after the fact—I’m not much of a planner, I didn’t have a program to write thus to achieve that—I’d say that with Waspmouth I tried to force the reader and listener to approach the work carefully, to read and listen, and create an understanding much as we must when we are learning a new language and only half understand what we hear or read. Or, much as a child must when learning any language, drawing on innate resources as Chomsky proposes in his Cartesian Linguistics.

That said, the linguistic contortions are not the point, and the theory is an addition, an explanation after the fact concocted in response to comments from some readers. The poem is written after all with words, not theories.

MP: You’re one of only a few poets I’ve read recently who choose not to use titles in their collections (Tyler Pennock is another, with their collection Bones). In your previous collection, Insult to the Brain, you did have titles. What fuelled this decision to omit them for Through the Waspmouth I Drew You?

NV: Titles are always difficult, I think. If a title doesn’t add to the poem, then why have it? If it adds too much, then I’d say the poem may be rather weak. I like that individual sections of Waspmouth can stand on their own as independent poems, but I prefer to think of the thing as a single poem, with sections. I could have given each section a title, but I’m lazy, and coming up with titles that weren’t just decorative would have been very difficult. More importantly, titles would have been distracting.

MP: How do myth and folklore play into this collection? (Do they?)

NV: I don’t think they do. Certainly, I made no conscious attempt to bring any specific myths or folktales into the work. I did consciously bring in references to writers and poets ancient and modern, some of my favourite and least-favourite philosophers, but if myth and folklore are present, that presence would be accidental, simply because they are part of our life and thought.

MP: In “XXVII,” you write: “Ask the parrot / a poem begins with a word / just one, my pinkcrested friend, just one will do.” Can you delve into this further for the poets who may be having a fallow period at the moment, those poets who wish to begin poems again, and begin them well?

NV: Now, this is a tough oneadvice for poets anxious that they won’t write another decent poem. I think it was Auden who said that one is a poet only at the moment one finishes a poem and knows that it is a good poem. At all other times we are persons who wrote some poems, and who may write others. Advice: wait, don’t fret, write and allow what you write to be godawfully bad. Try again. Don’t fret. Take your time. Writing poems is like fishing. You need patience, and more patience and more patience. Nothing happens, then there’s a poem—and it gets away from you, and it was a great one, of course; then there’s more waiting, and maybe another poem.

MP: What are you currently working on?

NV: I’m never quite sure where things will go. And I’m superstitious, I can’t say.





Nicola Vulpe has published a novella, The Extraordinary Event of Pia H., who turned to admire a chicken on the Plaza Mayor (Quattro Books, 2008), and four collections of poetry, including Insult to the Brain (Guernica, 2019), which received the Fred Cogswell Award for Excellence in Poetry, and Through the Waspmouth I Drew You (Guernica, 2021).

Margo LaPierre is a Canadian editor and author of Washing Off the Raccoon Eyes (Guernica Editions, 2017). She is newsletter editor of Arc Poetry Magazine, membership chair of Editors Ottawa-Gatineau, and member of poetry collective VII. She won the 2020 subTerrain Lush Triumphant Award for Fiction. Her work has been published in the /temz/ Review, Room Magazine, Arc Poetry Magazine, filling Station, CAROUSEL, PRISM International, carte blanche and others. Find her on Twitter @margolapierre.

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