Jillian Weise: Ariana Reines is here for the Sixth Annual Clemson Literary Festival. Reines is the author of The Cow, Coeur de Lion, Mercury and the play Telephone, which won two Obie Awards. She has translated Baudelaire, Hennig and Tikkun. Thank you for joining us, Ariana.
Ariana Reines: Thank you for having me.
JW: Will you begin by reading a section from your second book, Coeur de Lion?
AR: Sure. There are many / Kinds of transmission / Between people. / Stronger things than sentences. / Liquids, exhaled / Words on top of them. / Where is the “you” of You / Tube. Who is the / You of advertising. / You / Tube’s you / Being me isn’t enough / For me. / What / Is You today. What / Is You to them. A slot, an empty / Envelope. A speaker / Should have to pass / Through everything in the world / In order to dare / To dare / To say You.
JW: Thank you. I love this line “who is the you of youtube” and this entire book is incredibly imaginative and seems personal to me, as a reader. It feels personal. We’re getting names like the Emma of Google chat. Could you talk about how this book came to be?
AR: I had lied for a couple years and claimed to have been working on a book called Coeur de Lion, or Coeur de Lion if I was going to pronounce it the French way because I just loved that there was this cheese in France, which is one of the, uh, there’s an image of it at the beginning of the book, called Coeur de Lion, or a lion heart. I had always loved Robin Hood, the Disney cartoon, and I knew Richard the Lionhearted through that cartoon and, um, there was something about this cheese being called that that just seemed so romantic and medieval in this weird way. It’s also, um, in France it’s like a bad cheese. It’s the kind of cheese that they have at the deli that’s open late, you know. [Laughs.] I don’t know how to explain it because French cheese has different meaning in American culture. I was just attracted to the idea of it because of everything that’s cheesy, cheesy, cheesiness. For some reason it seemed to contain a lot of things that I’m interested in. Fallen genres. Grand traditions. Things of high quality. Things of low quality. All wrapped up in this tidy little package.
But when I actually began to write the book, it was sort of at the end of a love affair and the book sort of contains a lot of the explanation for its beginnings. It was the end of this love affair and the object of the love had saved his password to his email on my computer and one night I, um, when I sort of realized that I was about to write Coeur de Lion, it was really—it was not a moral moment—it was a combination of personal feelings and literary inspiration at the same time, which is extremely ambivalent morally speaking for many, many reasons. But I read his emails. And I realized, while I was doing it that I was about to write that book Coeur de Lion that I had lied about having been writing. Does that make sense?
JW: Yeah. And it makes sense, too, that it’s an act of voyeurism that ignites the poem that you write. The book-length poem that you write. Because it feels voyeuristic to a reader to read the poems.
AR: And indeed, I suppose, it is. I mean it was, uh, the product of inspiration and that’s why also it was extremely limited in time. It was published very quickly after it was written. It was edited also as obsessively and, like, sort of continuously as it was written so it happened in a sort of outside of the normal kind of time and space. I guess. Yeah.
JW: In the Boston Review, there’s a reviewer who compares you to Sylvia Plath. How do you feel about this?
AR: Well—I think Sylvia Plath is great. So in a way it’s lovely. Of course, Sylvia Plath also killed herself so there’s an uneasy emotional force field, I guess, around women writers in particular who I, or we, might admire or in various ways identify with, who have either killed themselves or lived reclusive or otherwise reduced lives. Emily Dickinson. Virginia Woolf. That side of it. The dark side of it is something I’m giving voice to it, I guess, because it’s not the thing that I want necessarily to talk about but it’s part of the truth of it. It’s part of the complexity of it. But there’s other more superficial basic things that maybe Sylvia and I have in common which is that we’re both from Massachusetts. And, um, we didn’t get along so fabulously with our dads. So those are just the basic things that I could say, well yes, superficially, those things are true.
JW: I would love for you to read an invitational poem from your collection Mercury which is just out from Fence and this poem is called “We Can Do It” and this is Ariana Reines.
AR: We Can Do It. Whoever you are. If you ever open this. By your light you can keep it by the bed for your head and arms to weigh heavy on molting white clouds. A raft on a plate in the molten sea can close your house and quit you for it. You really can stop lying to yourself. I know to suffer alone is not an innovation. You know this one too. And to divine wisdom in a pearl of blood takes art in this open world. It takes art. And you have it.
Recorded on April 3, 2013 by producers Dyana Daniels and Eric Rodgers for the show Your Day on 90.1 FM (WEPR). Additional transcripts available from jweise [at] clemson [dot] edu.