Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Interview with Gabriel Rosenstock

  1. Poetry, a little alien? Why care about it?

Poetry is an act of renewing the Imagination and reshaping it for our times and maybe even for all time. Poetry always exists, though not necessarily always on the page. It has been around for thousands of years and links us with Reality in a special way, often in a memorable way, and links us as well to ancestors whom we may have forgotten, links us to history and to landscape and renews the language that is on our lips.


  1. Who are (is) you as a poet?

I am a bilingual poet-translator and haikuist working in Irish and English. Writers create national literature, translators create world literature, says Saramago.

  1. What kind of literary tradition, particular authors or modes of literary thinking have you found inspirational for your work?

In three volumes of sacred poetry from around the world, fashioned into Irish (Gaelic), saints and sinners rub shoulders with shamans, sages and seers. This is good company for poets. This is the type of poetry I like to read and translate, Sufi poetry, Bhakti poetry, Taoist poetry, tribal poetry from everybody and anybody on earth, Aztec or Innuit. This is timeless poetry. Much of modern poetry in the West is arid and intellectualized and has been so polluted by university learning that the music and the heart has been squeezed out of it, alas.

  1. Please give several examples of contemporary European or international poets that you believe are most significant (in any possible sense) and comment briefly on their merit.

I have translated into Irish (using English as a bridge language) poets such as Kristiina Ehin from Estonia and Nikola Madzirov from Macedonia who are not afraid of magical realms. They are in tune with something that is magical and Real.

  1. If asked about transnational influences in today’s international or European poetry, what examples would most readily account for?

  2. Rumi is very popular, as is Hafiz. One might have academic doubts sometimes about the actual translations but the popularity of Rumi is no bad thing, if only to remind us that poetry is essentially a spiritual activity. Turning to poets of our own time, Milosz, too, is quite popular.

  3. In all likelihood, some of the innovative patterns in contemporary poetics have not yet reached the acknowledgment of either the national or international literary canon. Can you provide some examples of specific authors or poetics that you believe are still undeservedly flying below the radar screen of broader critical community? What makes these patterns innovative and makes them supersede established modes of writing and/or reading?

Innovation is not all that important. The true voice of poetry is unmistakable, whether innovative or not. The huge problem we have today is the dominance of English and the neglect of poets writing in lesser-spoken languages and also the work of dialect poets. There are a number of poets in former British colonies around the world who write in English and many of them write very badly in English; they should be encouraged to return to the wellsprings of their own culture where they will find the idiom, the colour and the music to serve their aesthetic needs and challenges.

  1. Are there any influences or inspirations emanating from the poetries and poets from the former “communist countries” that you have been able to recognize as having an impact in the countries of “the West”? If yes, how would you describe this inspiration and the possible reasons for it receiving acclaim or resonance in certain artistic or social communities?

The only good reason to read poetry is the passion and sincerity behind it which deepens our own sense of humanity and the mysterious layers of the universe within and without and, of course, there are dozens of poets from the former communist block who are outstanding,

  1. How do you see the poet–reader relationship’s current state and its evolution in the contemporary cultural landscape? Please share any possible examples of that very relationship as being alienated, or, on the opposite side enlivened, re-energized, or newly franchised.

Code Poetry in Greece recently posted a haiku of mine as stenciled graffiti. That’s one way of doing things as bookshops close down. We have to be innovative and ‘urban guerilla’ tactics with stencils and paint is something I would strongly approve of.

  1. What kinds of fresh genres or types of poetry do you see emerging in today’s international landscape? Can you see any identifiable new kinds of “ars poetica”?

Again, the emphasis is on the ‘new’. Why? Good poetry is always ‘new’. It should not try to be new. This is putting the cart before the horse!

  1. Both the discourses of poetry and politics seem to carry an aspiration to win human hearts and minds, or even change lives. What examples do you see of fruitful interaction between political and poetic discourses and agenda?

Is capitalism undergoing a crisis? Do groups such as ‘Anarcho-Primitivists’ have something to say about the economic, social and ecological crisis we are living through?

I think Wendell Berry’s Mad Farmer is one type of effective response to the world’s anguish:


The Mad Farmer Revolution

Being a Fragment
of the Natural History of New Eden,
in Homage
To Mr. Ed McClanahan, One of the Locals

The mad farmer, the thirsty one,
went dry. When he had time
he threw a visionary high
lonesome on the holy communion wine.
"It is an awesome event
when an earthen man has drunk
his fill of the blood of a god,"
people said, and got out of his way.
He plowed the churchyard, the
minister's wife, three graveyards
and a golf course. In a parking lot
he planted a forest of little pines.
He sanctified the groves,
dancing at night in the oak shades
with goddesses. He led
a field of corn to creep up
and tassel like an Indian tribe
on the courthouse lawn. Pumpkins
ran out to the ends of their vines
to follow him. Ripe plums
and peaches reached into his pockets.
Flowers sprang up in his tracks
everywhere he stepped. And then
his planter's eye fell on
that parson's fair fine lady
again. "O holy plowman," cried she,
"I am all grown up in weeds.
Pray, bring me back into good tilth."
He tilled her carefully
and laid her by, and she
did bring forth others of her kind,
and others, and some more.
They sowed and reaped till all
the countryside was filled
with farmers and their brides sowing
and reaping. When they died
they became two spirits of the woods.

On their graves were written
these words without sound:
"Here lies Saint Plowman.
Here lies Saint Fertile Ground."




How would you envisage an optimal cohabitation of the two “pos” (poetry & politics) that would be beneficial to your co-citizens?

I would keep them apart, I’m afraid. The world of politics is a world of patronage and privilege. It corrupts everything it touches. In this I am in agreement with Ed Abbey:

Anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization, based on five thousand years of experience, that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals, & county commissioners."



  1. What kinds of values and qualities do you think media poetry (sound poetry, visual poetry, kinetic poetry, digital poetry and poetic performance) can offer in comparison with poetry conceived of as a traditional written fixed text form? Please exemplify.

I like visual poetry and for years now I have been creating Photo-Haiga, haiku in Irish and English in response to nature photography by Ron Rosenstock (no relation). We hope to have an audio-visual show, with a music track, based on this material and present it as an installation in a gallery space near you! The South African composer and musician Eugene Skeef, based in London, is creating the sound track. I’m all for YouTube presentations of poetry as well, such as this one by Chicano poet Francisco X. Alarcón (one of the first poets I translated into Irish), talking about being bilingual and bicultural:



  1. How would you describe the difference between the kinds of creative inspiration that you may experience as generated by your imagination as opposed to the potence emanating from the appropriative process of handling meaningful contexts and patterns already existing?

All genuine works of art emanate from the imagination, and the degree to which pre-existing forms are present in the new work is not relevant at all.


  1. Would it be fair to say that we have witnessed a gradual shift in a broader understanding of the very notion of (creative) writing due to the rise of the media and programming?

Possibly. But today, everybody is an ‘artist’ and this is boloney because not everybody is an artist!

  1. What kind of unique experience does media/experimental poetry mediate to you (your mind and body) that you would not be able to find otherwise?

Every imaginative work of art is a unique experience and media/experimentation are secondary matters.

  1. What do you think poetry stands for today? Has the recent advancement in the natural sciences and humanities influenced our very understanding and possibilities of poetry?

Poetry is at a low ebb in our TV-saturated age. Pop songs now provide poetic emotion for the masses. Poets have retreated to academic towers. They should be hunted out of these towers, back in to the fields and the woods and the riverbanks where they might recover their senses.

  1. What makes a poem a poem? Has this apparently notorious question been in any sense reinvigorated or revisited in the wake of the rise of the global and globalized civilizational experience?

Nothing that has ever happened, or that will ever happen, can ever change what a poem is. Its essential nature is timeless, unpredictable and inviolable. Here is a Navaho poem taken from the Poetry Chaikhana site. I am unable to appreciate it in its original language and yet it sings to me in a way that few poems from our age do: the refreshing innocence it contains is also in us and actually exists in the core of our own hearts if we knew how to get in there, find it and sing from that space.

Gabriel Rosenstock, Éire (Ireland)

Beauty is Before Me

by Navaho (Anonymous)

Original Language Navaho/Dine

Beauty is before me,
And beauty is behind me.
Above and below me hovers the beautiful.
I am surrounded by it.
I am immersed in it.
In my youth I am aware of it,
And in old age I shall walk quietly
The beautiful trail.



The interview was conducted during the last week of July 2013 by ARS POETICA, a Slovakian poetry festival.


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