VOL        

        UME




 

Interview
Aimee Chor & Nadja Küchenmeister



Nadja Küchenmeister was interviewed by Aimee Chor via email in January of 2024. The interview was originally conducted in German; all questions and answers were translated by Aimee Chor.



Aimee Chor
Light and shadow, sun and moon, wind and rain and sky—these poems have a lot of weather and atmosphere in them. To me, this gives unity and rhythm to the poems as a group. It also feels like a kind of stage setting, a way of locating the poems’ interiority in an external frame. How do you understand the weather in your poems?


Nadja Küchenmeister
It is important to me that the sun is, first and foremost, truly the sun, and the moon, the moon. When rain falls in a poem, then rain is falling in the poem. I don’t want to rule out the possibility that the description of weather, light, atmosphere might also express something else, but none of my images start off as metaphors. Only an image that is alive on the most basic level has the potential to be an image that gestures beyond that level. I have no interest in symbolic language, which just runs the risk of overloading the poem with significance.


Aimee Chor
The blackbird appears in all three of these poems. What role does the blackbird play for you in them? How do animals appear in your writing?


Nadja Küchenmeister
It's not very original to say one loves animals, but it’s true. I like to be around them, observe their behavior. I cannot imagine a life without animals. The blackbird’s song has such a pleasing, warm, comforting sound. And I have witnessed—or at least imagined – that the pigeons in the courtyard grow quite still in the evening when the blackbird sings its nighttime song. In the morning it ventures back out early. Its endless scolding is more or less intolerable, but that’s just nature. And dogs, my favorite animals, also show up in my poems over and over. There is nothing false about animals, no meanness, no malign intent. They live the same way we do. They experience joy and anxiety. Like us, they are thrown into the world, but with the small difference that animals are unaware of their thrownness.


Aimee Chor
One characteristic of your poems is enjambment. How do you think about the relation of lines to each other in your poems?


Nadja Küchenmeister
It’s true that my verse endings do not always coincide with my line endings. And sometimes a line ending seems to be the end of a verse, but in the next line you notice: Oh, it’s also related to what follows. Regardless of how natural a poem’s tone is, every poem is constructed. But I also allow the poem to collaborate with me. This happens with sounds: one sound makes another possible. But it also happens with line breaks. I prefer harmonious visual form. I don’t like it when very short lines follow very long lines in my own poems; it introduces too much disorder. The associative quality of poems is challenging enough for the reader, so I aim to counteract that optically. It has become important to me not to break up words at the end of a line gratuitously. This isn’t a problem with compound nouns, but I won’t break off two letters and destroy a word in the process anymore. Ideally, it should appear as if the words found their places in the poem naturally and independently.


Aimee Chor
These poems are from a book that is highly structured, with sections that mirror each other, linked poems that open and close the book, and a long text at the center. Two of them are from a section that seems to treat the aftermath of a love affair, and the other is from a section that seems to center on memories of childhood. Can poems that appear in a book like this stand on their own? How do the poems in your book relate to each other?


Nadja Küchenmeister
Just as the verses in a poem begin at some point to converse with each other, so too the poems in a book talk together. I get to know the book I am writing over time, because I, too, do not know in advance what I will be holding in my hands at the end. Connections suddenly open up and I feel compelled to revisit an image, but in a new way. Preferences develop for certain spaces and objects because you spend a long time inside them, have taken their temperature. Seeing becomes more precise, deeper; you notice there is more to say about this room, this person, this time. And so you keep mixing the colors in slightly new and different ways. The book’s structure emerges at the end. Once I put a poem in a chapter, it can find its own power in the book – I hope. Of course, each poem should also be able to stand on its own. One can’t only make A-sides and B-sides. But I try, at least, not to write C-sides, even though that has certainly happened.


Aimee Chor
What is the relationship between memories and dreams? Do you think their relation might be different in poetry than in other kinds of writing?


Nadja Küchenmeister
The action – if there is such a thing as action in poetry – of a poem can seem dreamlike, but ultimately dreams do not play a large part in my writing. Although perhaps it’s not quite that simple, since who knows which images will surface and where they come from? In the end, it’s always about form. I dream in images and my memories are like dreams. Perhaps that is the connection?


Aimee Chor
The poem “rage” is set in a room, with curtains at a window from which a station can be seen. Where is this room? Does it matter?


Nadja Küchenmeister
For the readers of the poem, it’s not important where this room is. It’s a room in a poem. A student recently said to me that he feels an obligation to his life in his writing. He was talking about an authenticity that I find problematic. As a writer, I feel responsible exclusively to my text. An independent reality comes to be on the page. Even if the images in my poems draw on the reality familiar to me, that is irrelevant to the poem and its logics. We think we know how it was, who we were, who we are. But in fact we are always creating our own history. It is never true, always only our interpretation.


Aimee Chor
Since your work is appearing here in translation, it seems fitting to ask a bit about that. What does it feel like to you to have your writing translated into other languages? What are the limits of translation, do you think?


Nadja Küchenmeister
It is a joy and an honor to have translators work with my poems and translate them into their own languages. I am curious about the “solutions,” the equivalences, that they have found, and am pleased to have them thinking and writing with me. To translate poetry is to write poetry. I know from my own experience how difficult it is to translate linguistic idiosyncrasies – idioms, regional particularities – from English into German. My English vocabulary is insufficient, so I translate together with my best friend, Matthias Kniep, whose English is excellent. He does not need my help with translating, but I need his. We attempt to do justice to the spirit of the original and so the poems we translate are recognizable as translations. At the same time, we aim for a natural elegance in the German. We need a lot of time for our translations and have often arrived, if not at the edge of language, then perhaps a friendly edge… As a translator of poems, one must, I think, remain open to indeterminacy, not least because poems are open things, even for those who speak their language.


Aimee Chor
Few readers of German poetry in English translation can read the original or have a sense of its relation to the translation. Is there anything about your writing in German that you would want readers of your work in translation to know? What, if anything, do you especially appreciate about writing in German, as a poet? What, if anything, do you especially like (or dislike) about English?


Nadja Küchenmeister
Because my English vocabulary is limited, it has never been an option for me to write in another language. For Matthias, this is different: he actually writes his poems in English. When I write, I am primarily focused on the image or verse at hand and don’t think about translations. Surely there are peculiarities that are not readily comprehensible for an anglophone reader, but those are typically something that a German-speaking reader also would not immediately understand. This is an advantage of poetry, rather than a disadvantage. I like the colloquial quality of English. It gets to the point so much more quickly than German, which can be fairly complex – we need more room. When a poet uses it well, the laconic quality of English is so pleasing, so exact, but at the same time the language is much more complex and rich in variants than many people think. English can be very elegant while also being very down to earth; I learned this not least from the poet Michael Hofmann, whose poems I admire.


Aimee Chor
What books have you been reading recently that you want to recommend?


Nadja Küchenmeister
You’ll laugh, because I’m going to recommend two Americans! Right now one of the books I’m reading is Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams. A Western! I’m ashamed to admit that I stayed away from this genre for so long, and from genre writing in general. Why? There is so much to learn from genre. And Williams is so precise with his imagery! And I always come back to Denis Johnson! I always insist I don’t have a favorite book, but I always think of his book Angels when I am asked this question.


Aimee Chor is a poet and translator who lives in Seattle with her family. She lived and studied in Germany for several years and holds degrees in religious studies from Carleton College and The University of Chicago.

Nadja Küchenmeister, born in Berlin in 1981, has published three books of poetry: All the Lights (2010), Under the Juniper (2014), and In the Glass Mountain (2020). She has received many awards, most recently the Basel Poetry Prize (2022).

Mark



©2023 Volume Poetry
Join our mailing list:


Follow us on instagram.
Submit your work to Volume:
submissions@volumepoetry.com

Site design by Nick Fogarty