Speculate – An Interview with Dominique Hecq

From what began as a dialog between two adventurous writers curious about the shape-shifter called a prose poem comes a stunning collection that is a disruption of language—a provocation. Speculate is a hybrid of speculative poetry and flash fiction, thrumming in a pulse of jouissance and intensity that chases the impossible.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

As a guest writer for Meerkat Press’ latest offering, Tomes and Tales has collaborated with the publishing house to feature this remarkable literary endeavor of two writers on its worldwide blog tour. My review of the book can be found here.

EXCERPTS:

1) Evridiki

Friends are not important—like plagues, they come and go, even blood is not thicker. But fate is another matter. Some fool in autumn had a drink in the dark, sought a taste of heaven in a street named Bagh Nakh. Found it in the hands of a runaway who raised a hand and plunged a dagger that clung to the idiot’s heart.

***

You were born in autumn and so, naturally, hate spring. The scent of blackwood showering pollen. The air licked with gold where the buzzing of the bees deepens. The sudden opacity of it all. You run. Run away. Away from the visible and from the invisible. With the pollen clinging to your skin, the sun striking and the darkness beneath your feet settling, you are a living phobia. A fear of no consequence. Yet as eons pass in one beat of the heart, you hear the rustle under the trees. Taste the bite of death.

2) Neither a kitchen nor a sky

Her heart is a room full of photographs and pillows wafting around rehearsing melancholy and reinstating torment. But there is still no word, just somber silence in the floating photographs and neglected pillows cartwheeling like burnt toast past the IKEA blender and microwave in a fairy tale of space that does not involve breathing.

***

His heart smells of burnt toast. If you look closely, you will see a paisley design—the sort found as all-over design for an IKEA bedspread. The main motif and the background of ferns are done with pure (that is unmixed) colors: just red (turkey) and black (jet) to conjure up the marriage of blood and vegemite, the staples of his diet, as well as his sign in the Chinese horoscope. Yes: he is a tiger. Enter the chambers of his heart at your peril. Don’t say you were not warned. He grinds his teeth.

INTERVIEW WITH DOMINIQUE HECQ

I interviewed author Dominique Hecq as part of the release and promotional tour of her latest book, co-authored with Eugen Bacon. Here’s a peek into our conversation:

1) While co-authored books are not uncommon, how did the idea for a conversational narrative come about?

Eugen and I are part of a prose poetry group and at one point we noticed that we were constantly responding to each other’s posts through fiction and feedback. So, it seemed natural to pursue the conversation outside that forum.

Eugen has also co-authored short fiction with other writers, recently with Andrew Hook (slipstream fiction) and Seb Doubinsky (an afro-francophone collaboration), which may be testament to her ability to work with others, and understand synergy.  

On the other hand, I have collaborated with performers, sound-artists, musicians and dancers. I’ve also written a bilingual work with Chantal Danjou, a French novelist, and worked closely with authors whose work I’ve translated (most recently Claudia La Rocca, from San Francisco).

2) Dominique, you and Eugen are so similar, in the sense of being completely different in your respective writing styles. What goes into selecting a co-writer? How did you get together for this project?

It started in master/apprentice relationship—I supervised Eugen’s PhD in creative writing. I was working as an associate professor at the time. The relation evolved to one of mutual respect. We’ve known each other for over ten years and have learned from each other’s stylistic differences. You could say it is precisely these differences that cement our relationship. It also energises our writing. In this project, we bounce off each other’s words and take the narratives to extremes.

3) Speculate is presented as a dialogue through essays. How did the two of you decide on your parts? Did a verbal conversation flow into writing, or as writers did you read each other and then take the conversation ahead?

The latter: As writers we read each other and took the conversation ahead. This is why Speculate has two parts—one in which I respond to triggers in Eugen’s text, and one in which Eugen reacts to mine.

4) Prose poetry as a genre has a very specific following from readers who enjoy both forms. Any literary influences, books or writers you would recommend for further reading?

The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem: from Baudelaire to Anne Carson (2018), edited by Jeremy Noel Tod, is a good place to start as it looks at the form’s rich heritage in the literary mainstream. Without wanting to be parochial, I would also recommend The Anthology of Australian Prose Poetry (2020), edited by Cassandra Atherton and Paul Hetherington. More focused towards critical commentary are Jane Monson’s British Prose Poetry: The Poems Without Lines and Peter Johnson’s A Cast-Iron Aeroplane That Can Actually Fly: Commentaries from 80 Contemporary American Poets on Their Prose Poetry (2019).

I couldn’t close this question without mentioning Russell Edson, the “grandfather of the American prose poem,” who has published thirteen collections of prose poems, and Mexican writer Gaspar Orozco’s whose book-length prose poem Book of the Peony (2017) is just stunning in Mark Weiss’s translation.

As for the question of influence, it’s hard to tell, but I’m likely to have absorbed the lessons of Charles Baudelaire during my youth and, later, those of Anne Carson. Truth be told, both Eugen and I greatly admire Margaret Atwood’s work and Oz Hardwick’s skills at defamiliarizing the reader—his prose poetry sequence Wolf Planet(2020) certainly deserves a look. And I know Eugen is madly in love with Toni Morrison, celebrated for her beauty in language in personal text that shouts its meaning.

5) Speculative fiction, flash fiction, essays, stories – Was the hybrid genre a conscious decision, or did you follow the conversation to wherever the writing took you?

That was a conscious decision. Currently short forms are flourishing and, perhaps as a consequence, the boundaries of the prose poem are increasingly porous.And yet, a century and a half after the publication of Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen, the question remains: What is a prose poem?

While many different kinds of prose poems have been identified over recent decades, a range of innovations and hybridisations challenge and subvert the boundaries of the prose poem form. In fact, what excites us about prose poetry is that it uses poetic techniques to set up and subvert readers’ expectations. And since we delight in crossing boundaries, it’s a perfect form.

6) Dividing the book into two sections was again a very innovative and interesting part of the narrative. The idea of one leading and the other following. How did that come about?

Apart from our concern to be fair to each other, we wanted to give the book a kind of speculative mirror image in terms of style of writing. It was also a natural evolution of our responding to each other’s lead.

7) Did you expect differences in interpretation of the book, considering two writers with a strong hold on readers with their respective styles?

Yes, and it will be interesting to see how reviewers address this conundrum. Literary theorist Gérard Genette in his book Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation (1997) explores the liminal devices and conventions, within and without a book, that form part of the complex mediation between the book, its author, its publisher and reader. Eugen and I were pleasantly astonished by our publisher’s reception of Speculate. Let’s see what readers think.

8) What’s the story behind that gorgeous cover?

The cover is the genius of our publisher Tricia Reek of Meerkat Press. It’s her creative response to the work (paratext of interpretation?). I think sheperceived the nexus between the speculative and lyrical modes of the manuscript and worked with that. She then presented us with stunning variants of her design, and we chose the one that appealed most to us. We love the vibrant colours and blurring of tangoing shadows.

SPECULATE: A COLLECTION OF MICROLIT

by Eugen Bacon & Dominique Hecq

RELEASE DATE: JAN 19, 2021

GENRE: Collection / Prose-Poetry / Speculative Fiction

BOOK PAGE:  https://meerkatpress.com/books/speculate/

BUY LINKS: Amazon Book Depository | Barnes & Noble

AUTHOR LINKS: Website Twitter

GIVEAWAY LINK: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/7f291bd825/

The Road to Woop Woop Blog Tour

Eugen Bacon’s work is cheeky with a fierce intelligence, in prose that’s resplendent, delicious, dark and evocative. NPR called her novel Claiming T-Mo ‘a confounding mysterious tour de force’. The Road to Woop Woop and Other Stories imbues the same lushness in a writerly language that is Bacon’s own. This peculiar hybrid of the untraditional, the extraordinary within, without and along the borders of normalcy will hypnotise and absorb the reader with tales that refuse to be labelled. The stories in this collection are dirges that cross genres in astounding ways. Over 20 provocative tales, with seven original to this collection, by an award-winning African Australian author.

Author bio

As a guest writer for Meerkat Press‘ latest offering, Tomes and Tales has collaborated with the publishing house to feature the award-winning writer and her brilliant book on its worldwide blog tour. Here’s my interview with author Eugen Bacon as part of the release and promotional tour of her latest book.

1) With a range of themes and genres, the book does not fit into a specific category of writing style. Was this a deliberate decision of being genre defying or genre defining?

My writing is experimental, a curiosity. My cross genre stories are a natural birth of my multiplicities as an artist, a scholar, a short story writer, a novelist, a poet. I have always been enchanted with theorist and critic Roland Barthes who found pleasure in the text, for whom text is a multi-dimensional space where things are made or unmade. I am drawn to deconstruction, margins of philosophy, meaning of text. My defying the boundaries of genre is a natural occurrence, a child of wonder and play.

2) The writing features a lot of Australian slang (including the title itself). What was your target reader audience while writing this book?

Streuth, Aussie drawl is not vernacular! Crikey. I write for a global audience, and the writing is accessible in textual context, placement, narrative and flow—as any good writer will see to. Not all stories have an Aussie drawl, just the ones featuring distinct characters, like Bluey in “Dying” (golly gum), the toad in “Beatitudes” (I’m just a bloody toad) and Calder in “He Refused To Name It” (who could have said, “I haven’t seen M in yonks,” but didn’t).

Woop Woop was once a real place for harvesting jarrah timber northwest of Wilga in New South Wales, Australia. It faded from history and today refers to a place remote or without facilities in ordinary speak (“I live out Woop Woop—my internet is down again.”) The slang I use is both a natural aspect of my self and other—I am true blue, as one would say, even as a blend of cultures (African Australian)—and a deliberate playfulness, where writing is an extension of art and play.

3) African stories in Australian fiction – Was this cultural blend something you set out for, or the stories just happened to perfectly sync together?

I am African and Australian—the one is not exclusive from the other. I am a sum of parts. I am many, betwixt, a fusion of cultures. My stories and their characters chart what happens. Perhaps they steal from my everyday in a perfect sync of that self and other. There is no tension when I write, but rather a release.

4) The writing style can be an acquired taste of sorts. Any tips/suggestions for upcoming or newbie writers on honing their skills beyond set narratives?

Find your voice. I talk about voice as integral to a writer’s identity in my book Writing Speculative Fiction (2019) by Macmillan. Voice is your unique way of telling. In a review of my collection by award-winning author Keith Rosson, he wrote: “The Road to Woop Woop pushes boundaries, blurs genres and folklores, and reminds us once again of her dazzling, unique voice. No one writes like her.” When you tell it in your own way of looking at things, this is your voice.

5) Any literary influences or personal favorite authors/books you would recommend that readers pick up?

Fiction by Toni Morrison,celebrated for her beauty in language in personal text that shouts its meaning. Anything by Anthony Doerr (his text is like: “fields enwombed with hedges”)—clove pink carnations, ivory white lilies and crimson rich roses sprout in each sentence. Peter Temple is an Australian crime fiction writer—I wrote a tribute to his writing in the Literary Hub, it will tell you how this author is a favorite: “The New Seduction of an Old Literary Crime Classic”. The novel Truth is his most memorable work.

I am currently reading Nalo Hopkinson’s Skin Folk (2001), was besotted with NamwaliSerpell’sThe Old Drift (2019) and adore Sheree Renée Thomas’s Nine Bar Blues (2019). Andrew Hook is a British author of the literary strange who has really captivated me. I nearly fell when he agreed to collaborate with me in a short story. 

6) The stories are often lyrical. Any upcoming poetry collections?

Yes, thanks for asking! I find a certain attraction in text that makes colour in my mind, that patterns a rainbow in the ideas I find voice to. In 2020 I wrote two prose poetry collections, Her Bitch Dress and It’sFolking Political through Ginninderra Press. They are a response to politics, to the pandemic and much more. What’s more, Speculate, my collaborative collection (with Dominique Hecq) of illustrated prose poetry is out in January 2021 by Meerkat Press. Trust me—this illustrated collection is a provocation. You’ll want to read it.

Speculate – a collection of illustrated prose poetry

7) What’s the story behind the cover?

Meerkat Press would be thrilled to give you an answer. I just said, I want something African and Aussie, and it’s kinda dark. The publisher sent me draft art with a croc and galahs, eyes and skulls, and I said, too right.

(Did you know she also did the inner illustrations? My word.) 

THE ROAD TO WOOP WOOP by Eugen Bacon

RELEASE DATE: DEC 1, 2020

GENRE: Collection / Speculative Fiction / Dark Fantasy

BOOK PAGE: https://www.meerkatpress.com/books/the-road/

BUY LINKS: Meerkat Press |Amazon Barnes & Noble

AUTHOR LINKS: Website Twitter

GIVEAWAY LINK: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/7f291bd824/?

A dazzling piece of literature.

An excerpt from the titular story:

THE ROAD TO WOOP WOOP

Tumbling down the stretch, a confident glide, the 4WD is a beaut, over nineteen years old.

The argument is brand-new. Maps are convolutions, complicated like relationships. You scrunch the sheet, push it in the glovebox. You feel River’s displeasure, but you hate navigating, and right now you don’t care.

The wiper swishes to and fro, braves unseasonal rain. You and River maintain your silence.

Rain. More rain.

“When’s the next stop?” River tries. Sidewise glance, cautious smile. He is muscled, dark. Dreadlocks fall down high cheekbones to square shoulders. Eyes like black gold give him the rugged look of a mechanic.

“Does it matter?” you say.

“Should it?”

You don’t respond. Turn your head, stare at a thin scratch on your window. The crack runs level with rolling landscape racing away with rain. Up in the sky, a billow of cloud like a white ghoul, dark-eyed and yawning into a scream.

A shoot of spray through River’s window brushes your cheek.

A glide of eye. “Hell’s the matter?” you say.

“You ask me-e. Something bothering you?”

“The window.”

He gives you a look.

Classic,you think. But you know that if you listen long enough, every argument is an empty road that attracts unfinished business. It’s an iceberg full of whimsy about fumaroles and geysers. It’s a corpse that spends eternity reliving apparitions of itself in the throes of death. Your fights are puffed-up trivia, championed to crusades. You fill up teabags with animus that pours into kettles of disarray, scalding as missiles. They leave you ashy and scattered—that’s what’s left of your lovemaking, or the paranoia of it, you wonder about that.

More silence, the cloud of your argument hangs above it. He shrugs. Rolls up his window. Still air swells in the car.

“Air con working?” you say.

He flexes long corduroyed legs that end in moccasins. Flicks on the air button—and the radio. The bars of a soulful number, a remix by some new artist, give way to an even darker track titled ‘Nameless.’ It’s about a high priest who wears skinny black jeans and thrums heavy metal to bring space demons into a church that’s dressed as a concert. And the torments join in evensong, chanting psalms and canticles until daybreak when the demons wisp back into thin air, fading with them thirteen souls of the faithful, an annual pact with the priest.

Rain pelts the roof and windows like a drum.

He hums. Your face is distant. You might well be strangers, tossed into a tight drive from Broome to Kununurra.

The lilt of his voice merges with the somber melody.

You turn your face upward. A drift of darkness, even with full day, is approaching from the skies. Now it’s half-light. You flip the sun visor down. Not for compulsion or vanity, nothing like an urge to peer at yourself in the mirror. Perhaps it’s to busy your hands, to distract yourself, keep from bedevilment—the kind that pulls out a quarrel. You steal a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. Deep, deep eyes. They gleam like a cat’s. The soft curtain of your fringe is softening, despite thickset brows like a man’s. You feel disconnected with yourself, with the trip, with River. You flip the sun visor up.

Now the world is all grim. River turns on the headlights, but visibility is still bad. A bolt of lightning. You both see the arms of a reaching tree that has appeared on the road, right there in your path. You squeal, throw your arms out. River swerves. A slam of brakes. A screech of tires. Boom!

The world stops in a swallowing blackness. Inside the hollow, your ears are ringing. The car, fully intact, is shooting out of the dark cloud in slow motion, picking up speed. It’s soaring along the road washed in a new aurora of lavender, turquoise and silver, then it’s all clear. A gentle sun breaks through fluffs of cloud no more engulfed in blackness. You level yourself with a hand on the dashboard, uncertain what exactly happened.

You look at River. His hands . . . wrist up . . . he has no hands. Nothing bloody as you’d expect from a man with severed wrists. Just empty space where the arms end.

But River’s unperturbed, his arms positioned as if he’s driving, even while nothing is touching the steering that’s moving itself, turning and leveling.

“Brought my shades?” he asks.

“Your hands,” you say.

“What about them?”

“Can’t you see?”

His glance is full of impatience.

You sink back to your seat, unable to understand it, unclear to tell him, as the driverless car races along in silence down the lone road.