In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Nadia Born
I love the unique setup of “The Swimming Lesson,” as this story follows two characters’ internal monologues within the same moment of time. What inspired this story’s creation, particularly in this style?
I actually wrote “The Student” section first, but it felt like the story was incomplete somehow. So, I leaned into the areas that intrigued me. I started to wonder about the instructor and how her story could serve as a mirror for Howard’s. This helped crystalize certain themes for me: how they’re both trying to say goodbye, in what way they’re students/instructors, etc. The side-by-side “reflection” format was born from this fascination.
While the entirety of this work is set in the present, the pivotal moments of this piece took place in the past, and are presented as memories. How do you work to ground the reader in the present while drawing from the past to form the situation in front of us?
In very short fiction, I like to choose liminal moments where there’s a crucial change about to happen. (Here, Howard’s about to jump into the pool, while Masha’s about to leave for college). Though there’s a clear present happening through the swimming lesson, it’s a natural time for these characters to ponder the past and future.
The column structure of this story is fascinating. Can you talk about how you expect people to read this story, and what you did to make sure they read it in the order you wanted?
On the first read, I think the greatest impact is reading “The Student” in full and then “The Instructor.” But my hope is that it may be read in different ways, especially a second or third time. For example, starting with “The Instructor” or even reading the lines side-by-side may emphasize different connections.
You write a lot of flash, including Checking For Ticks published by SmokeLong Quarterly; also, your piece “The Prohibition,” recently won the Anton Chekhov Award for Flash Fiction at LitMag. Can you talk about the craft in flash and what drew you to it?
I love flash because it’s such an innovative form. Somehow it reminds me of that silly “gold panning” activity we did as kids. Flash is lowering a pan into the river to see what nuggets and pebbles you’ll discover. Usually you get unexpected, odd little things. Though I write longer stories as well, I always come back to flash to capture those tiny-sized weirdos.
What authors are you reading now, and do you have favorites that you keep returning to or who influenced your writing?
As a reader, I love anything fantastical. For example, I just finished C.L. Clark’s The Faithless and Fonda Lee’s Untethered Sky. That said, I have certain favorites I always return to: Ursula K. Le Guin, Jhumpa Lahiri, Gabriel García Marquez, Elena Ferrante and T. Kingfisher.
Today’s flash scene is also so wonderful and I try to keep tabs on authors including Allegra Hyde, Tara Isabel Zambrano, Jasmine Sawers, Latifa Ayad, Candice May, Exodus Oktavia Brownlow and Regan Puckett.
What projects are you working on now?
I just started a longer myth-based work this month – exciting times! But I also tend to get pulled into short stories at any given moment, so we’ll see what happens.
Nadia Born writes peculiar fiction, both literary and speculative. Her work has been published in Gulf Coast, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. She also has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best Microfiction. She holds a BA in creative writing from Northwestern University.
In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Hwang Yuwon
Your poem, “Dark and Clear Sleep” (translated by Jake Levine) takes the reader through a restless night. When I was reading it, I felt like I was right next to the speaker at the open window. What was your process in creating this poem? Where did you find your inspiration?
Firstly, thank you so much for your comment on the poem. As I am reading your comment, I also feel like you are standing or sitting right next to me, the old me I once was.
I wrote this poem like 7~8 years ago, but I can still remember the atmosphere of the moment. It was an autumn night, and as always, the first cool breeze of autumn stirred my mind and I really had to pour something out of me, and this was the result. The first few days of autumn always inspire me.
The repeated lines and phrases of your poem both soothe the reader and make them wonder what’s coming next. How do you develop rhythm and repetition when you write?
Well, the rhythm and repetition are probably the most important things in my poetry. There are times when a certain word or sentence gets stuck in my head, and one day it just starts flowing by itself and grows like a river, sometimes like an ocean.
I guess I learned that technique from music, not poetry. Or I’d rather say, in my case, poetry and music are not two separate things. They are one.
In this poem, the reader feels like they’re in two places at once, both at the window with the speaker and down the dark alleys mentioned. Can you talk about your process for writing in general? What surprises you when you write? What is the most essential part of craft for you?
Personally I call my poem ‘real time poem’ or ‘live poem’, which means I always write about what’s in front of me and what’s in my mind at the same time. So you are very right about saying that you feel like you’re in two places at once while reading the poem. One is real space, and the other is mental space, though it’s getting harder to tell which is which, as I am growing older.
Well, as my poem is mostly ‘real time poem’, I write it when it gets started. In other words, I never start writing a poem. It’s more like a poem starts me, using me as a tool to get materialized.
So, even when I revise a first draft, I try my best not to eliminate that real time feeling. I don’t revise that much though.
There’s a debate among some poets about the merits of hand-writing poems versus typing them. Do you have a preference?
I am surprised to hear this! I think most poets of my generation in Korea never use pen or pencil when writing. Well, maybe there are some, but I am quite sure there are only a few of them.
As I usually write very fast what’s pouring down like water through my hands, I need to be really quick. My hand-writing is not so fast, so I prefer typing.
What was your journey to becoming a poet like, and was there a moment you realized that you wanted to focus on poetry, or was it a gradual discovery?
Oh, I first started writing poems when I was a high school student. I think I wasn’t very happy with those poems in textbooks. So I kind of had to write what I wanted to read. I am not sure, but I guess that was the idea.
After that, it was such a long journey… To make a long and boring story short, I had decided to give up poetry and become an Indian philosophy researcher, but I failed to become one and instead became a poet. I have always been more interested in the essential matters than in the peripheral, and that was the reason I chose Indian philosophy over poetry. But now I believe I can reconcile the two different genres, and I am quite satisfied with the way I am now.
What are you reading now? Are there texts or books that you favor or keep going back to?
I’ve been working as a full-time translator for the last 7~8 years, so I usually read what I translate and the things that are related to that. After the day’s work is done, I don’t really feel like reading anything at all, especially literature. I spend too much time with literature.
Like everyone else, I always need something to comfort my troubled life. In my case, that something is Buddhist Sutras. The most beloved Sutras among Korean buddhists, like The Heart Sutra or The Diamond Sutra, are also my favorites. I am not a buddhist, though. Besides, I dislike empty formalities and vanity of institutional religions.
You are the author of many works, including “Everything in the World, Maximized.” What current projects are you working on?
As I am a person with diverse interests, I have been working on several different projects at the same time.
One of them is about volcanoes. It will be all about volcanoes and volcanic cones and the fiery screams of nature and people I know. For that, I am planning to go to Indonesia to look around all the famous volcanic regions. I get really excited just thinking about it. Hope I can really go!
Hwang Yuwon is a poet, translator, and student of Indian philosophy. He is the author of three collections of poetry: Supernatural 3D Printing; White Deer Lake; and Everything in the World, Maximized, which received Korea’s most distinguised first book award, the Kim Soo-young Prize. He translates poetry and novels from English to Korean. Among them are The Lyrics: 1961-2012 by Bob Dylan, Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, By the Sea by Abdulrazak Gurnah, and Glass, Irony & God by Anne Carson.
In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Maureen Aitken
Your flash fiction piece, “Mushrooms,” deals with a transformational event that resonates with the narrator dealing with loss later in life. What was the inspiration behind this piece?
Two people close to me endured long illnesses before passing. Hospice nurses and workers were so helpful in showing me that you can be there and help care for someone, and even though we can’t ease their pain, your presence matters. They also talked about survivor’s guilt, which many people feel. There is another point that few talk about. When loss happens, a new door can open in one’s life, revealing a greater resonance, more beauty, than the life you knew before. That is one way to transcend that loss and perhaps transform your life.
I love the line, “New flowers, rabbit cabbage, an old woman who looked familiar,” which is so vivid, you can imagine it with all of your senses. When writing this piece, what language or literary devices did you purposefully include to alter the narrator’s senses? Did you try to make the reader feel like they were on a trip with your narrator?
I did want to offer that trip mood, both the wonder and the depth of it. Luckily for me, people like to talk about their mushroom experiences. Sometimes they talk about a hyper-clarity with brighter colors and a much deeper understanding. On the other side of the trap door, I saw a more rooted version of our natural world, so I focused on smells, colors, and texture to create a fairy-tale quality, and one with more intimacy than the world we know.
This piece starts and ends in very different places, and your precise word choice takes us through a spiral of emotions. When creating such a compact piece, how do you navigate the time span?
I saw the trapdoor section of the piece first, then the last line. In writing this, I started with the background of the friend, then their shared experience as the anchor. Once I had the anchor, I added in other timelines, moments, and observations. But I had to go over the lines again and again, reading them out loud so they sound effortless. That’s another fairy tale.
Your carefully crafted stories have endings that give the reader a sense of closure, even if the character’s story feels like it continues; I’m thinking not only of “Mushrooms,” but “In the Red Room.” How do you know when you’ve found the perfect ending?
If an ending hasn’t arrived, it can feel like a surreal hide-and-seek experience. Sometimes the end will be earlier in the piece, waiting for me to find it. Other times I’ll write many pages, get no closer to an ending, then I’ll be out walking the dogs and there it is, the last few lines, smiling at me.
What writers inspire or influence your work? Who are some authors you enjoy?
I could write a long list, starting with Albert Camus, James Baldwin, and Gabriel García Márquez.
But I’d rather talk about three or four authors that have been on my mind this month.
I first read Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day in college and loved the voice and grace of the writing. That book, along with Never Let Me Go and Klara and the Sun, question issues of equality in our culture in compelling ways through characters who have such dignity. I was reading parts of his work again this month and I think his writing is so beautiful.
For a long time, I studied and reread many Alice Munro stories. Her work still runs deep, but her early subject matter and story structure were also a meaningful contrast to the writing of the time. One of my favorite lines from her story, “Miles City, Montana” is often on my mind:
“In my house, I seemed to be often looking for a place to hide…so that I could get busy at my real work, which was a sort of wooing of distant parts of myself.”
I’ve been inspired by writers thinking in original ways, especially Mona Susan Power and her brilliant book, A Council of Dolls. I just finished Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin, which is so good.
For a book about writing, Haruki Murakami’s Novelist as a Vocation offers surprising advice and insights. He is such an edgy, creative thinker, and owned a jazz club. He also runs. That much I knew about him. I imagined a sort of swagger to his personality. I also imagined stories just percolated in him and then burst out. But, according to the book, Murakami writes for many hours a day, sticks to a schedule, and lives a structured life. He’s also brutally honest, especially about himself. He describes himself as someone who doesn’t stand out in crowds. If he wants a seat in a restaurant, they often put him next to the kitchen. He also claims that reviewers in Japan often trash his work. His dedication and focus are what matter to him. I find this so inspiring.
You’ve written many short stories, essays, and the book, The Patron Saint of Lost Girls. What other projects are you working on now?
I am working on a novel and a collection of flash/micro pieces. One section of the novel was published in The Missouri Review’s online section, which was nice. I like both forms for different reasons. I also enjoy the flash/micro writing community. They are a wildly talented and entertaining bunch.
Maureen Aitken‘s short-story collection, The Patron Saint of Lost Girls, won the Nilsen Literary Prize and the Foreword INDIES Gold Prize for General Fiction, and was listed as one of the Kirkus Best Indie Books of the Year. The collection also received a Kirkus Star and a Foreword Star. Her stories have been widely published in journals including The Missouri Review, New Letters, and Prairie Schooner. She teaches writing at the University of Minnesota.
In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Jake Levine
The poems by Sin Yong-Mok are full of vibrant imagery. As you’re translating, how do you find the flow of a poem, especially in such a long one like “Lazy Corpse?”
This is such a good poem. There are some narrative devices, like flashbacks, and cut scenes. The poem is really cinematic. And there is repetition, progression, so it feels like the poem is written almost like it has movements. It builds and ebbs and wanes and then breaks you. Structurally you don’t really have to do anything when you are translating. You get to make some moves and try to establish a rhythm, but strong imagery, structure, theme, if these things push the poem forward, then it makes the translator’s job easier. The syntactic and grammatical difficulty and ambiguity, those things are much more difficult to carry over. Yong-Mok’s poems are really difficult on a syntactic and grammatical level. How you parse out those difficulties… is really like a wrestling match.
In “Dark and Clear Sleep,” (Hwang Yuwon), there’s the double meaning of “characters” embedded in the seventh and eighth stanzas. Is that an intentional play on words on the poet’s part, or is that one of those moments of translation that worked really well?
Mmmm. Sometimes in a translation there is some magic and you wonder, was that also in the source text? I’m going to pull a T.S Eliot move here and say if you really want to know, you can read it also in Korean and compare ㅋㅋㅋ.
No language translates one-to-one on the page, and in your interview with Kim Min Jeong, you’ve talked about how difficult it can be to translate literary devices like onomatopoeia and puns. What was challenging and exciting about translating these works?
Every project, every poem has its own challenges and pleasures. For these two, parsing out with Brother Anthony what to do with Yong-Mok’s poems, and chatting with Yuwon about his poem were exciting. I like working with other people. I don’t usually translate dead people, so I’ve usually got to work with the author, and I also like working with other translators. I’m not a native speaker of Korean, and my poetic sensibilities are not always spot on for every work. I’ve learned a lot as a poet and a lover of poetry from working with other people on translations. I’ve learned how to work my weak hand, to deliver lines I would find difficult to write in my own poems. Understanding how a poem makes meaning, trying to figure out a way to create some parallel to that poem in another language, I mean each of these poets write in a language they are inventing. So every poem, every project, requires an equal dedication to invention. The most challenging part is finding the time and energy for it. Poetry doesn’t pay well, which is why it is in the translator’s best financial interest to do other things. I often spend more time translating poems than I do working on my own poems. If you break down the cost/time ratio for translating poetry, that is the biggest challenge. Getting over money. Getting over needing to pay the rent and eating.
Can you talk about your process of translation, as well as co-translation, and how collaboration with another translator and the author works?
When I was younger I had a teacher who said a poem wants to get somewhere, and we are all here together to help the poem get to its destination. I think art is something sacred. My brother works in international aid and development, working with the United Nations and coordinating refugees from Ukraine. There are so many moving pieces, and he is always visiting warzones, and coordinating on the ground, like a chess piece playing a chess match on a chess board with countless players. When we come back to America together, which is not that often, he is always saying the reason I do what I do is because you do what you do. Without you doing what you do, there would be no reason for what I do. So I have always believed that the translators and poets and authors I have worked with have worked hard to help the poems make their journey, to provide secular culture, civilization, and art, because even if it isn’t always popular or well-funded, people need it.
What drew you to translation, and as you’re a poet yourself, how does one art form fuel another?
When I was young I was an orthodox Jew. I learned Hebrew and English and went to an orthodox school. But then my dad went to jail and some terrible things happened in my life and my family became un-orthodox Jews. Art and culture became my tabernacle, my daily Torah, a way for me to find spirituality. Then some other shit happened to me, my family members became drug addicts, my friends committed suicide, some died in car crashes or overdoses, so art was something I kind of turned to because it spoke to my experiences. Joe Strummer, John Berryman, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, they were my Moses. When you go to a foreign country and you are a poet and you are learning the language and you meet other poets, you’ve got to try and translate and introduce those poets. It is a kind of spiritual thing (not economic). When you are translating other poems from other traditions, you are expanding your powers. You’ve got to study and draw from traditions outside your working language. It is really liberating. Korean poetry has broken my idea of what a poem can do. Like a bone, the what-a-poem-can-do bone has become stronger and bigger in my English language poetry. Poetry has given me a lot of purpose when times were the darkest, so I always felt like I had to pay it back. At first I thought translation was a part of that, but then I found translation was really this gateway into expanding my powers.
What authors do you turn to for inspiration? Do you have a favorite text, poem, or novel?
Wow, so many. Some of the greatest elder or approaching elder artists alive are Kim Hyesoon and Nick Cave and Ko Hyong-ryeol and Bob Hass and Tomas Venclova and Louise Gluck and whatever Misfits people are doing the Misfits tour and we are lucky to be sharing our time with them on the earth. Some of the dead, Clarice Lispector and Edmond Jabes. Yi Sang and MF Doom. Keats and Marquis de Sade and Harriet Jacobs and Virgil and Blondie and Guided by Voices and Paul Celan. I also suggest everything on the sides and in between. Prince. One of my trashy songs is “I Confess” by the English Beat. I also return, without fail, to Keats and the Cramps. Keats is so gross, Lux Interior too. They are so cool and gross. I’ve been really lucky to know and be friends with a lot of amazing artists whose work has really influenced me. Dick Siken, first and foremost. I love Joe Hall. His work is really good. Everyone should read Joe Hall. Joyelle McSweeney. Elisa Gabbert. Richard Greenfield. Janaka Stucky. Johannes Goransson. Don Mee Choi. Jane Miller. Forrest Gander. Charles Alexander. Ilya Kaminsky. Kerry Keys. Tomas Slombas. Kim Kyung Ju, Kim Minjeong, Kim Haengsook, Kim Yideum, Sin Yong-Mok, Hwang Yuwon. There are so many. And people I don’t know, there is Han Byung-Chul. And Tim Morton. And Judith Butler.
The last novel I finished for fun was Babel, by R.F Kuang. It was fun.
You’ve done numerous translations for many poets, including the novel Beautiful and Useless by Kim Min Jeong and The Poems of Hwang Yuwon, Ha Jaeyoun, and Seo Daekyung; and you have your own poetry published in EOAGH and elsewhere. What other projects are you working on now?
I also co-translated Kim Yideum’s Hysteria, which won the National Translation Award and Lucien Stryk Prize as well as books by Kim Kyung Ju, Kim Haengsook, many many etc.. and I am always doing the Moon Country Korean poetry series at Black Ocean. I just had a book come out. The Imagined Country, with Tolsun Books. Beautiful and Useless by Kim Min Jeong is a poetry book. Uh, I am translating Supernatural 3D Printing by Hwang Yuwon, I’m also working on a new translation of one of Kim Yideum’s books. And I hope to finish my PhD thesis. I put it on the backburner for a long time. But I’d like to finish. Being an academic and translating and writing poems is really a lot of brains to wrestle with. But right now I am in Kyoto. My project for tomorrow is to be like Basho. I want to be in Kyoto and long for Kyoto. Two places. One space.
Jake Levin is a poet, translator, scholar, and assistant professor of creative writing at Keimyung University in Daegu, South Korea. He translates or co-translates poetry, K-pop, museum exhibitions, monographs, and art writing. His co-translation of Kim Yideum’s Hysteria won the National Translation Award and Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize. He has served as poetry editor at Spork Press and currently edits the Moon Country Korean Poetry Series at Black Ocean. He also has won a handful of awards for his poetry and scholarship, including a Fulbright Fellowship to Lithuania in 2010. His most recent book of poems, The Imagined Country, is out with Tolsun Books in 2023.
In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Shannon Scott
We get an unexpected supernatural twist in “The Snow Maiden.” Can you talk about how you utilize the supernatural within your writing?
When I write a story where something supernatural happens it doesn’t feel supernatural, it just feels like what is supposed to happen in the story. I’ve never been good at planning stories in advance. When I teach, I have lesson plans. When I present at a conference, I have my lecture written. I am not an “off the top of my head” kind of person. Writing fiction is the only activity I do that isn’t planned out. I think if it was, I wouldn’t do it. No surprises would mean no fun. If a spaceship wants to land, that’s great. If a woman in painting has something to say, as in “The Snow Maiden,” I’m all ears. Anything goes.
You reference the original tale of “The Snow Maiden” in your work. Looking back, many folk tales and fairy tales are rooted in horror and violence, especially towards women. What drew you to the tale of the “Snow Maiden,” or did that thematically grow out of the plot of your work?
I’ve researched and written about wolves and witches in Russian fairy tales. It’s certainly true that women don’t fare well in Russian fairy tales, unless they’re a witch, like Baba Yaga, or a blessed daughter, like Vasilisa. That leaves a lot of women in between two terrible fates—my favorite was a woman who was thrown to the earth so hard all they found was her braid. I’m not sure why brutality feels honest, but I’ll take it over Disney any day.
In your interview with Tara Laskowski, you say that “Human monsters are always scarier” than other monsters. This is a theme of horror that I absolutely love. Can you talk about how you weave villainous humanity into your writing?
Yes! This is a topic my students love. They aren’t afraid of monsters, but people, hell yes. Norman Bates, Hannibal Lecter, Ghostface. But it’s not just the psychopaths and serial killers, they crave a supernatural element too. When we screen films together—The Conjuring or The Exorcist—they are especially interested in demonic possessions. It scares them more than anything. When I ask why, they say it’s about the loss of control—not being able to stop what happens to your body—not having your body belong to you anymore. This seems like a reasonable and, sadly for some, legitimate fear.
When I ask them if they believe—like many people used to—that evil as an outside force as opposed to a mental illness, they say, no way, evil comes from inside, not outside, but a few of them will debate. I never let them get away with saying a character or a real-life individual is “crazy” because even the most deranged person has a certain logic to their actions, some kind of motive, even if we find it appalling or don’t understand it. I think this is especially important to remember when writing horror fiction. I never judge my characters. They can do whatever they like. I have to trust that they have a reason for doing it, and that they will eventually reveal the reason to me.
Your stories and essays are featured in a number of journals and anthologies, and you’re currently co-editing Terrifying Transformations: An Anthology of Victorian Werewolf Fiction, 1838-1896. What other projects are you working on?
I’ve been writing a lot of conference papers this summer. The research is fun, the writing is less so. I just finished presenting a paper on The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia at the Victorian Popular Fiction Association. I’m currently working on one for Fear 2000: Horror Uncaged in July. I present on dark faeries at the Festival of Monsters at UC Santa Cruz Center for Monster Studies in October. I’m really looking forward to attending that!
What writers inspire or influence your work? Who are some authors you enjoy?
I love getting a chance to read for pleasure over the summer. I’ve been working through a pile on my nightstand. Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman and Eric LaRocca’s Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke both blew me away, though for completely different reasons and in completely different ways. I still take comfort in my Victorian authors—I like to reread Charlotte Brontë and Wilkie Collins. Victor LaValle’s novel The Devil in Silver is one of my favorite horror novels because it does the opposite of what most horror novels do—it restores my faith in humanity.
SHANNON SCOTT is a professor of English at several universities in the Twin Cities. She has contributed essays on werewolves to collections published by Manchester University Press and Routledge. In addition, Scott has published short fiction in Nightscript, Coppice & Brake, Dark Hearts Anthology, Hawk & Cleaver, Oculus Sinister, Nightmare Magazine, and Midnight Bites. She is co-editor of Terrifying Transformations: An Anthology of Victorian Werewolf Fiction, 1838-1896. She has also created an Audible Original lecture series on wolves and werewolves and is currently working on a horror series for Audible Originals.