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Literary Prestidigitations on Display

15 Questions: An interview with Krystal Languell


Author: Krystal Languell
Bio: Krystal Languell was a semi-finalist for the 2010 University of Akron Press Poetry Prize and a finalist for the 2011 National Poetry Series. Her work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Fairy Tale Review, and DIAGRAM among other journals, and was anthologized in the 2010 edition of Best of the Web. Founder of the feminist literary magazine Bone Bouquet, she serves as a collaborative board member for Belladonna* Series as well as editor-in-chief at Noemi Press. She teaches composition at York College in Queens and the Borough of Manhattan Community College. She lives in Brooklyn, where she also co-curates the HOT TEXTS Reading Series.
Founding Editor, Bone Bouquet |  
Collaborative Member, Belladonna* |
15 Questions 

Tell me about your book.

My book Call the Catastrophists was published by BlazeVox in Fall 2011. It is mostly prose poems that engage the process of language acquisition by incorporating and (re-)defining phrases from Hungarian. The book is in four parts, each of which has some prose poems from this series and some stand-alone, lineated poems as well. Overall, I’d say the book is concerned with processing loss—whether it’s a loss of meaning or coherence through amateur translation or a loss of love. There’s a good bit of that in there too.

What influenced this book?
Four months in Budapest, my last semester of college. I’d been over the summer previous to meet my extended family for the first time, and so I had that genealogical connection to Hungary. I studied the language for two years before that while I was at Indiana University. The experience of studying and traveling had a huge influence on me, which is why so much of the book is concerned with Hungarian; it’s an agglutinative language, which means that to alter a word’s meaning prefixes and suffixes are added and that’s how you get these gorgeous long words and one-word sentences.
But I finished the book shortly after moving to Brooklyn, which was simultaneous with the end of a relationship that was very dear to me. That’s where that sadness and resignation comes from that I think is oozing out all over the book. In terms of literature, the work was influenced by what I was reading at that time, which included Thalia Field’s Bird Lovers, Backyard, Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely and Juliana Spahr’s Fuck You Aloha I Love You.

Where does this book fit into your career as a writer?
It’s my first book, so hopefully it will come to be regarded as prefiguring a bunch of amazing things that I have yet to conceive of. It comes somewhat directly out of my MFA thesis, which I completed at New Mexico State University among friends who have gone on to do excellent and exciting work around the country (indeed, the globe). Though I don’t think there’s one word about the desert in it, the book will always make me think of that environment.

If you had to convince a friend or colleague to read this book, what might you tell them?

I’d tell them it doubles as a Hungarian phrasebook in case they ever travel to Eastern Europe. Also that the best way to get a good guess at a person’s deep dark secrets is probably to read their first book!

Tell me about the last literary reading you attended.
I’ve been back in Brooklyn from six weeks of travel for only about a week and so the last reading I attended was at the Vermont Studio Center on July 2. It was a great reading because several fellow residents I’d made friends with read, and I loved all their work. It felt good to have my instincts confirmed—that yes, the people I chose to be my friends were indeed also all very talented. (My favorite moment was Sara Jaffe laughing unexpectedly when she read a line about “Frenching” written from the POV of her pre-teen narrator.)

When did you realize you were a writer?
Probably in earnest in high school, though it came to me by default it seemed. I remember being shocked when I was asked to be editor-in-chief of the student literary magazine (nerd alert). I didn’t really understand why I was chosen. I thought there were a lot of better writers in my class. Here I am 11 years later and I’m still basically doing the same thing (editing the journal Bone Bouquet, editing and coordinating business for Belladonna* Series). 

Tell us about your process: Pen and Paper, computer, notebooks ... how do you write?

Pen and paper first, but once I’m making progress and therefore less likely to get distracted by Facebook and the internet at large I move to my laptop.

How do you handle a bad review of your work?
I don’t know that I’ve had this happen. I had what I thought was a weak review, and there was also a bizarre review of a reading I gave shortly after I moved to NYC. The latter is what upset me—I thought I’d given a great reading, but was mostly ignored in favor of heaping praise onto a male prose writer whose reading I had found to be pretty awful. I dealt with that by sharing the four words that referred to me with friends and wondering when people had started reviewing events. More to the point of this question though, in an unfavorable situation I try to say “not all work will be loved by all people” and forget about it.

Which writer would you most like to have a drink with, and why?
I haven’t met Alice Notley, not yet anyway, and would love to. Having a drink, though, usually implies who would you like to chill with, and I can’t imagine being calm enough to chill with Alice Notley. So in that case, I’ll say Henry James.

What's the biggest mistake you've made as a writer?
Hitting “send” on snotty emails. Still working on that.

What's the worst advice you hear authors give writers?

“Find your voice.”

What scares you the most?

Where do you buy your books?
Unnameable Books on Vanderbilt Ave in Brooklyn—owned by Adam Tobin!

Who are you reading now?
Philip Whalen, Gail Scott, Barbara Henning, Lisa Robertson.

What is your favorite TV show at the moment? 

Murder, She Wrote. I’m on season 11 of 12, and when I finish I plan to start over again.

Bonus Round
What do you want the world to know about you? Make it juicy ....  
Single and looking. Great credit.