Saturday, March 1, 2008

12 or 20 questions: with Endre Farkas

Endre Farkas was born in 1948 in Hajdunanas Hungary. He escaped with his parents during the Hungarian uprising of 1956 and came to Montreal, Canada that year. He received his Masters of Arts degree in 1976 from Concordia University. He became involved with Vehicule Art Gallery in 1974, a parallel gallery begun by visual artists in 1972, and became part of a group of poets which included Artie Gold, Ken Norris [see his 12 0r 20 questions here], Claudia Lapp, Tom Konyves [see his 12 or 20 questions here], and Stephen Morrissey [see his 12 or 20 questions here], and John McAuley. They became know as the Vehicule Poets and a number of them, including Farkas, became involved in poetic and interdisciplinary performances and activities. He ran the Vehicule Poetry Reading Series for 4 years and was, along with Gold and Norris, one of the founding editors of Vehicule Press.

He has published eleven books of poetry: Szerbusz, 1974; Murders in the Welcome Café, 1977;
Romantic at Heart & Other Faults, 1979; Face‑Off, 1980; From Here to Here, 1982; How To, 1988, which was nominated for the QSPELL AM Klein Poetry Prize; Howl Too Eh?? (with Ken Norris), 1992; Surviving Words, 1994; In The Worshipful Company of Skinners, 2003; PromeCards from Chile, 2006 & Quotidian Fever: New & Selected 1974-2007. He has also published two plays Surviving Wor(l)ds, 1999, Voices 2002. His book Surviving Words, has been translated into French Les mots Qui Survivent, by Marie Evangeline Arsenault, 1999 and Spanish Palabras Sobrevivientes, translated by Elias Letelier 2002. A virtual version of it has been published as Hirencia, 2001.

He has edited a number of anthologies: Montreal English Poetry of the Seventies, The Other Language, Quebec Suite and Passport. He co produced an album of spoken work Sounds Like with Ken Norris [see his 12 or 20 questions here]. He has also been included in numerous anthologies: 10 Montreal Poets at the Cegeps, CrossCut, Voix-Off, Canadian Poetry Now, Poetry Australi, Anaconda, and Canto a un Prisionero and magazines in Canada and abroad, in English, French, Spanish and Italian. His work has been translated into Hungarian, Slovenian, French, Spanish Italian and Turkish. He has read/performed in Canada, USA, France, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Chile, Belgium, Holland, and Germany. He co-wrote with Ruth Taylor Radio Love as a commissioned radio play. He collaborated with director Liz Valdez to write “Why is this Night Different?” a play for teens/young adults.

He has always been interested in multidisciplinary performances and collaborations. In 1976 he began working with artists from other disciplines: dance, music and theatre. Some of the performances include Drummer Boy Raga (A collaborative 7 voice text creation) Close Up (A collaboration with composer Ted Dawson.) Toured Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria. Sound Bodies (Commissioned text and choreography for FULCRUM, a Vancouver based dance group) It Runs in the Family (Comissioned text and choreography for poet and two dancers.) Face‑Off /Mise Au jeu (Commissioned piece for the dance group CATPOTO.) An Evening in the Muses' Company (Text and movement for 3 actors. A Minute to Go, (Text and movement) Murders In The Welcome Café (Dramatization of the book, I Love You/Te t'aime (Text and movement for 3 voices for “Le jour de Poésie” Cabaret Vehicule An evening of performance poetry at Cinquieme Salle de Place des arts sponsored by the Musee d’art contemporaine de Quebec and ProemCards from Chile (solo performance) for Circus of Words/Cirque des mots.
In 1980 he started The Muses Co. originally an “umbrella” under which he produced and toured some of his productions. It evolved to include a publishing house that focused on poetry by new writers outside of the mainstream. He is also one of the founders of QSPELL (Quebec Society for the Promotion of English Language Literature) and The Quebec Writers Federation. He was President of Quebec English Language Publishers, editor of Matrix Magazine (with Linda Leith and Kenneth Radu), producer of Cabaret Vehicule at Musee D’art contemporain de Montreal and along with Carolyn Marie Souaid, coproducer of Poesie en Mouvement/Poetry in Motion (poems on the buses project) and the ongoing Circus of Words/Cirque des mots.
1 - How did your first book change your life?

I don’t think it changed my life. I remember working on it as life changing. That actually sounds melodramatic. Szerbusz (Hello/Goodbye in Hungarian, from Latin) was a chapbook of poems about going back to Hungary from where my parents & I escaped and dealing with the love/hate I had for the country and its people. Twice my country of birth turned on my parents; first in the 40’s, allowing them to be deported to concentration camps and then again in ’56. In my village, the ’56 uprising, the idealism of Budapest, turned anti-Semitic and under the cover of night mobs burned and looted Jewish homes. And in the morning the individuals of that mob behaved as if nothing had happened. So if anything changed my life it was this going back and encountering the past and the present. My first book was not my introduction to my life in poetry but it was what some people took to be my poetic license.

2- How long have you lived in Montreal, and how does geography, if at all, impact on your writing? Does race or gender make any impact on your work?

I have lived in Montreal for 52 years with a couple of years in the Eastern Townships on a commune. I love living in Montreal. I like that it is an island, that there is a limit to its growth. It forces the city to stay human. Then there is the Mountain; this teat of Mother Nature with an electric cross as its nipple in the middle of the city. And of course there is the geography of languages, the politics of languages, the history of languages, the poetry of languages. I think my poetry has been influenced by the shape and rhythm of the city. I wander its streets and feel its hearts. The city has many hearts, as many as there are people and more. I know that people in different cities could say some of the same things about their cities. If they can, Great!

About Gender I wonder. I’m male. I’m conscious of it and sometimes write about it overtly. Unconsciously, I probably write with it. About race, F.R. Scott once wrote a 4-liner called “Creed”. One line goes “the human race is my race”. I know it sounds hippy-dippy but so what. Maybe by saying it often enough, it will catch on. Doesn’t it make more sense than “my god can beat up your god” or “my country is better than yours”?

3 - Where does a poem usually begin for you?

3- Often I don’t know until after the poem is finished; from the personal, political, psychological and poetic concerns that are in me at the time.

Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

I’ve done both plus hybrids. My books tend to be poem books but may not necessarily start out that way. I’ve also done poem-books which were clearly book length though not necessarily narrative. And there are those that were. I don’t believe in “one approach” because that is not how I work nor how I live my life.

4- Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process?

I look at readings as performances. I can’t stand readings that are mumbles of the mortician school of poetry. Also many readings are not about the poems but about the poet. This I think is wrong. A reading/performance is about the community experience via the poem. Obviously, when I am working on pieces that are to be performed, performance is part of the engine. Ever since I have been in the poetry business I’ve created pieces that I wanted performed-solo, duo, trio, with dancers, musicians, actors and etc. It’s part of what I believe poetry is all about-oral, theatrical, community oriented. Then there are those poems that are most at home on the page. However, I have been surprised by some of the page poems that have evolved into evocative stage poems.

5- Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing?

No. First the poem and then the theory. Yes. There is good poetry & bad poetry.

What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work?

My work is not about questions and then answering them.

We live in a world that has lots of issues that raise lots of questions about what kind of world we live in. When I ask my students what they think a poem does, one of the most often given answers is “escape”. My response to this is “what kind of world are we living in, in which art is an escape?” “What do we need to escape from?” These are rhetorical questions. Aren’t they? I prefer Blake to Wordsworth because Blake didn’t try to use his poetry as an escape. He confronted his time. I try to do that in both the personal and public poems.

6- Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Depends on the editor. I really appreciated the critical, aesthetic and poet’s eye and ear that Carolyn Marie Souaid brought to Quotidian Fever: New and Selected, 1974-2007. An editor can see your poetic landscape from a different perspective and that helps you to see it freshly.

7 -After having published more than a couple of titles over the years, do you find the process of book-making harder or easier?

So far, I seemed to have gone through the same stages with each book. By the time a book is published, I feel long gone from there but because it is being published, I come back to it to promote it. After the one or two reviews, silence sets in. However, the hunger that seems to drive my writing seems to be satiated for about a year. The guilt of not writing is also assuaged for a period of time. Then an almost inaudible rumbles of hunger, just almost out of earshot but not quite, begins. A feeling of having done nothing emerges and a depression of sorts sets in. By the third year I look at my files to see if I have done any writing convinced that I haven’t, and I am often surprised that I have. Then begins the work of seeking a thread, editing, polishing, cursing and feeling better.

8- When was the last time you ate a pear?

A pear of what?

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

“I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it”, “Why do anything once when you can do it twice”.

10- How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to plays)? What do you see as the appeal?

It hasn’t felt too difficult though I am not sure if what I write (besides poetry) are plays. The plays started out as a feeling that I needed to/wanted to do more than just “read” poems. This was because I grew up (creatively) among artists from different disciplines. I hung out at Vehicule Art Gallery and met musicians, dancers, visual artists etc. and ended up collaborating with them for “performances”. I created multi-voiced pieces. This road became multi voice and movement, text and “theatre of poetry to finally a couple of plays. These performances/plays run parallel to my writing poems for the page.

These interdisciplinary pieces appealed to me because of their collaborative nature which countered the solitary state of writing of poems, the multilayered textuality that was not possible on the page, and a way of presenting poetry to a wider audience.

11- What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I don’t have a writing routine. My day begins with waking up and going to the bathroom.

12- When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I used to write something everyday, now it’s when I feel like it or when it feels like it.

13- How does your most recent book compare to your previous work? How does it feel different?

It was a Selected old and new and I haven’t done one of those yet so that was different. Because I don’t really know what I am going to write about from one book to the next, I tend to write books on different topics but certain large themes seem to exist. The Voyage is one. Sometimes, it is literal Szerbusz, From Here to Here, PromeCards from Chile; surreal: Murders in the Welcome Café; relationship-oriented: Romantic at Heart & Other Faults, How To, memory-based Surviving Words, and historical In the Worshipful Company of Skinners. Sometimes the difference is in form.

14- David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

The daily life of the world which includes nature, music, science and visual art.

15- What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

Whatever writer(s) I happen to be reading at the time is the important writer(s) & writing(s). My life outside, like most people’s, is not simple (I’m playing here with your question but it’s serious play), so these are fascinating, troubling, inspiring etc.

16- What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

I don’t know. I could answer like a Miss Something contestant-“I would like to bring peace to the world”. On good days, everything I do is what I haven’t done yet.

17- If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

I would like to have been a carpenter. There is something fulfilling in shaping wood into something functional; creating harmony between form and content.

18- What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I read. I was captured by what words could make out of what seems thin air and effect self and another being.

19- What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Henderson The Rain King by Saul Bellow. The Kite Runner.

20- What are you currently working on?

I’ll tell you when it’s done.


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