Interview by Zoë Brigley
“A poem can grow from a photograph (or several) like a crystal”
THE REVOLUTION OF THE BROOKS
A bridal veil of weightless waterfalls has covered ledges like a trembling web, like crystallizing remnants of a cloud, like stalactites awoken from their sleep. This restless lace appeared here out of nowhere five days ago. Three brooks broke out of mountains to drink the sun. They rush to quit the dark and leave behind eternities of stone. The brooks now sparkle—meditate in motion— and try to sync their glimmer with the poplars that hang above the unexpected water. Below, the streams unite. A chestnut tree— a wooden octopus with massive limbs— looks swollen, bulged and clumpy like raw clay. It fancies bathing in the forming lake. The miracle of bursting through the rocks has made the chestnut envious and bold. And still, its hefty body fails to move. Four dying pines (akin to drying flowers), which have been crumbling on white rocks for months, now search for water with their thirsty roots. A gust of wind has stopped above the lake and sleeps upon it like a curled-up cat.
What I enjoy about this poem is its sustained attention to the more-than-human. There is no human happening here – it is just nature. Is this often the concern of your poetry?
Landscapes are and have always been an indispensable part of my poetry, as well as my prose. Many of my poems include natural scenery, whether it’s nature alone, nature shown in relation to human activity, or nature as part of a more complex, often surreal picture. Much of my writing is inspired by photos I take on my journeys. A poem can grow from a photograph (or several) like a crystal. In most cases, that’s only the starting point – I’m rarely interested in fully describing this or that landscape. A poem is usually a combination of different impressions, locations, and imagined and “real” details seen through the lens of metaphor. I’m interested in maps and satellite imagery, in studying the minutest geography of the places I visit. An infinitude of details in natural scenery escapes human attention. Taking photographs can be the first step towards uncovering them, but poetry can go much further.
The language you use is very physical and onomatopoeic. Was that intentional?
To some extent, it was. I wanted to create a very dynamic, revolutionary picture to convey the swiftness of movement, as opposed to sleep, “eternities of stone,” and failure to move. At the same time, I think the use of such language is rather characteristic of landscapes in my poetry in general. I wrote The Revolution of the Brooks within a day (although I made some minor edits later), without analysing the language in detail. I started with a few very concrete images, and then, line by line, they united into a more complex picture.
I also enjoyed the feeling that the chestnut is a person. How do you feel about recent writings that suggest more than ever a view of creatures and plants as having a kind of personhood as much as human beings do?
I like that view. To me, animals do have a personhood, as well as plants (to a somewhat lesser degree). As you said, there is no human being in The Revolution of the Brooks. But at the same time, it has a human dimension, which is in part created through personification. This poem deals with concepts of change, memory, action, and oblivion. Personification is an important part of poetic thinking. It’s often misused and overused, especially for sentimental purposes. But like other poetic devices, when applied appropriately, it can open up new layers of meaning and create a new metaphoric reality with its own rules and causal relationships.
Alan Zhukovski (he/him) is a poet and translator. His work has appeared in Poetry Ireland Review, The London Magazine, The Poetry Review, Poetry London, New Statesman, Oxford Poetry, Ambit, The Threepenny Review, Tin House, Agenda, Wild Court, Acumen, Poetry Salzburg Review, and elsewhere
You can follow him on Twitter @Alan_Zhukovski and Instagram @alan_zhukovski
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