Leah Umansky: In your second book, Swoon, you have a sequence of poems around “Women.” Now, in Woman Without Umbrella, you have a similar sequence at work. Did you know when you finished Swoon, that you would have a similar sequence in your next collection?
Victoria Redel: The sequence in Swoon I saw in the way a visual artist might consider a sequence of gesture drawings—which seemed to me an extension of the overall notion I had for Swoon to try and render the many faceted and simultaneous aspects of a woman–mother/lover/thinker/daughter. In contrast I see Woman Without Umbrella as having a kind of narrative arc and so the thread of poems using the same titles is a consideration of time. And though “Woman” in the title is singular I think of this as a book inhabited by many women both contemporary and historical.
To answer the second part of your question—the sequence in this book was not anything I knew when I finished Swoon. It wasn’t anything I actually knew until I was well into working on this book of poems.
LU: This collection is full of intimate and tender moments in love and in loss. How would you say you avoided sentimentality in this collection? Do you ever consider it a risk? I think all love poems risk something of the writer. I’m thinking specifically of poems like, “Kissing” and “Almost Fifty.”
VR: Risking is central to poem making I’d wager for every poet. If the tightrope I walk in making these poems is that of sentimentality, I’m okay with that challenge–mostly because I didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. These were the poems I needed to make here in the middle of my life. Death, illness, love, divorce, hilarity, hope, foolish hope–none of these are sentimental. The courage to get up everyday is not sentimental. Living is not for sissies. Or avoiders. If I “avoid sentimentality” that’s good–but it won’t be because of “avoidance”. I’d rather run headlong toward that difficult possibility.
LU: How do you feel about the state of poetry in the digital age of 2012? Are you a fan?
VR: Years ago when I was first asked to publish a poem on-line, I thought, who would ever read a poem on a computer? Well obviously, that question was pretty foolish. I’ve come to love the free flow of poetry across the world—the opportunity for poets in other countries to connect with readers here (and vice versa). In that sense a larger audience is wonderful. On the other hand, I hold books in my hand. It is what I like to do. I also like to make poems with pencil and paper. I kind of miss my typewriter. I’m such a lousy typist that I always had to retype to correct typos and when I did, I always found myself fixing, changing, and revising. I’m not exactly sure I let my hands off a poem quicker now—its just different.
LU: What advice would you offer someone who is just starting to find his or her footing in the poetry world?
VR: It would be to think as little as possible about the “poetry world” and to think and live as much as possible with great poems and great books and the vision and mind of other artists and thinkers. I’d tell someone starting out to think more about bugs and flowers and weather and the tributaries of rivers than about the “poetry world”. That’s the world to find footing in, that’s what will yield.
LU: I love your novel, Loverboy, because of its lyricism, its honesty, its directness and its heart. I always recommend it to friends. You’re one of the few poets I know who also write fiction. Where do you see the distinction between fiction and poetry?
VR: Thank you for that reading of Loverboy. Of course there are distinctions between the two but for the sake of brevity (in this question) I’ll assert that there are essential similarities—at least for me. I’m a poet more driven by the sentence than by the line, and I’m a fiction writer driven more by language than plot. In fiction I tend toward compression—sometimes that works to provide a lyric intensity but often I have to work hard to open a paragraph, a page, a scene. In Woman Without Umbrella I was very interested in having a many-charactered narrative and shifting points of view.
LU: Thank you so much, Victoria.
Victoria Redel is the author two previous collections of poetry, Swoon and Already the World as well as, three books of fiction, most recently The Border of Truth. Her short story collection, Make Me Do Things, is forthcoming in 2013 from Four Way Books. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for The Arts and the Fine Arts Work Center. Redel is a professor at Sarah Lawrence College.