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Wordsmith; An Interview with Larisa Alexandrovna

By John LeKay  Posted by Diane Sweet (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   No comments
Message Diane Sweet
Larisa Alexandrovna was the first to report that the US-UK began an illegal pre-war bombing campaign of Iraq, that former CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson was working on WMD proliferation in Iran at the time her cover was blown, that the US Department of Defense was working with a terrorist organization - the MEK - in order to de-stabilize Iran, and that US forces had detained roughly seventy thousand Iraqi and Afghan nationals since the beginning of military operations post-911

She is known for outspoken criticism of the Bush administration, especially on civil liberties and human rights. Alexandrovna is regularly featured on leading media outlets to both express her concern over human rights violations by the Bush administration and to discuss the war on the Constitution launched by the Republican Congress and the White House.


John LeKay: When and where did you first start writing poetry an can you remember what your first poem was about?

Larisa Alexandrovna: The first poem I remember is when I was about six, in Vienna Austria. We had finally gotten out of the Soviet Union and were slowly making our way to the States. We shared a flat with another Russian family and an older woman, also from the Soviet bloc. The poem was about the Russian revolution, if you can imagine, and it was totally inaccurate, and really very silly. But my mother was very proud of it, so she had me read it to the older woman, who shredded it to pieces. It was really a stupid, inaccurate, and badly written poem. But I was six, what did she expect?

JL: Can you please tell me what inspired "Speaking to Jingo-Man"

LA: In part, I can. I was getting pressure to back off a story and I was not reacting well to the situation. I had attempted to get advice from seasoned and highly regarded journalists on how to handle such "pressure" but they were not willing to discuss the topic and their own experiences with that type of push back. I understand now why they are reluctant and it has less to do with fear of retribution than it does with no one believing you. I know this is very general, but that is the best I can do with regard to this "pressure." I was very emotional in reacting to the situation, and in the end, I did not back off the story, but I felt I had to say something. Speaking to Jingo Man was my response to that very stressful situation.

JL: Do you tend to feel inspired or write at certain times of the day, or at certain times of the year? Summer, Autumn months?

LA: No, not at all. I am odd. I suppose because I don't have a prolific period or an inspired period. My poetry writing is like a different animal from my other writing. When I am reporting, I am led by curiosity, compelled by it. And I am up against deadlines. But when I am writing poetry, I am led, compelled by something different than curiosity, although the questioning is at its core the same, the process is quite different. I know that when I have to write, I have to write. But I cannot schedule it or look for inspiration in my environment. I have tried that. It does not work. It really is like a reflex more than it is a controlled experience. With essays, and other non-fiction I am closer to my poetry writing. But I always have to go back and clean it all up, tweak it, correct and adjust, stuff like that.
In short, I have no answer to what inspires me or when. I know it is disappointing, but I really don't.

JL: How important is your environment to you. In terms of the writing process. Do you need a writers get away?

LA: While my environment does not inspire me necessarily, it can stifle me. So I do need certain things. I need a "room of my own" as it were, that has my things in it just the way I like them. I am horribly anal about certain things being in a certain order. So all of my books are organized by genre and in alphabetical order. All of my tea pots ( I collect tea pots, how exciting) are set out in a pretty display. I have my cigarettes and my coffee. That is about it. Really boring and anal, but as long as I have my room and my certain things arranged just so, I am good to go.

JL: .Do you listen to music when your write?

LA: It really depends on what I am writing and my mood really. I cannot write articles to music or poetry to music in general, because I actually listen to the music and lose concentration. But again, it depends on my mood and what it is that I am writing about.

JL: Do you prefer the writing process more, or seeing a finished product?

LA: I hate the process. I wish I could take what I have in my head and transfer it somehow in one swift gesture or movement. I am incredibly impatient. I cannot stand waiting for my edits to come back or waiting for whatever it is I need at any particular time. I don't like the process, because I think the thing is done before we ever start writing. Like chess, it plays out from first move to end game in my head. That said, while I dislike the process, I think it is in the process where we learn to polish our craft, expand our abilities, flex our creative muscles.

JL: Do you tend to do a lot of re-writes, editing etc, or seem to get it right at first?

LA: No one gets it right the first take. They can get it close, but not right. I get the meat of it right the first take, which is the full emotion behind it. the editing is where again craft takes over, it is the process. I think there are some poet's who got very close to getting it right on the first take, like Rimbaud, Emily Dickinson, Keats, for example. But I don't think we will ever really know how much of the writing went on their minds before they set out to do the craft of writing.

JL: Have you ever wrote something and regretted it and wished you could get it back to work on it some more?

LA: probably 90% of my work. It's hard to let go I think.

JL: . Do you have family members that also write poetry?

LA: No, I don't. Most of my family does not even read poetry. But my father does and he loves the Russians like Turgenev and Mayakovsky.

JL: . Who are some of your influences and what is one of your all time favorite books of poetry?

LA: Nabokov is, for me, a god. His grasp of the language, bet it English, Russian, or French is mind boggling. He is not really a poet, but his technique, his mastery of the metaphor structure, his ability to make things visceral, are the tools of a great poet. I love Anna Akhmatova, Edna St. Vicent Millay, Sexton, for their distant emotions. Bukowski's gritty and aggressive style is really quite seductive. Tsvetaeva breaks my heart. I love Emily Dickinson, Rimbaud, Mayakovsky, also. I could go on, but it would be a very long list.
Basically, I adore the Russians and really, the magical realists. My favorite book of poetry, wow, that will be hard. I would say Emily's Fascicle 18, which is not really a book, more like a scrapbook, but it is what it is. She sewed her poetry together in little groups.

JL: How do these political times of war, impact your poetry?

LA: I don't think I will know until I look back at it. I can say that I have been writing less because I am busy reporting more. But outside of that, I don't know. I am too close to things right now to really understand the impact.

JL: Do you feel that poets have a social or even a moral responsibility?

LA: Yes they have a moral responsibility, but not a social one. Society will take its direction from art sometimes and art will sometimes be influenced by society. But there should never be a social obligation. I am with the "art for art's sake" school of opinion on this. Morally, however, which of course depends on how one defines morality, is another story. Some believe that "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,-that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know," (Keats) which I don't particularly agree with. Others believe in going into the woods to live deliberately (Thoreau), which is where I tend to fall, with the American Romantics. But this is a very long discussion and perhaps should be a book of some sort..

JL: Do you think Donald Rumsfeld is a poet of some sort or could have been inspired by Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan wrote, I was older then, I'm younger than that now"

Rumsfeld quote

I would not say

that the future is

necessarily less


than the past.

I think the past

was not predictable

when it started.

LA: You are comparing Dylan's ability to translate time with Rumsfeld's need to mask time and confuse. Rumsfeld is simply trying not to tell the truth by speaking in riddles, not poems. Dylan is speaking of how life changes a person. Two different things.

No. I don't think someone can be a poet when they have such little regard for the basics of craft, for creativity, for the abilities of a human being. No, he is a murderer and while murderer can be poets, of course, Rumsfeld's inability to grasp structure, change, subtle differences, for example, demonstrate why he is no poet. He is just a butcher, a sloppy and arrogant butcher. But he is no poet.

JL: What about number 43. He said.

I think we are welcomed.

But it was not

a peaceful welcome.

--George W. Bush, defending Vice President Dick Cheney's pre-war assertion that the United States would be welcomed in Iraq as liberators, NBC Nightly News interview, Dec. 12, 2005

LA: I don't see basic language and merely speaking as poetry. It is an opinion delivered with little creativity and craft. I think it is probably more poetic to say "they will greet us with flowers" but in the end, propaganda does not have the moral imperative, nor does it work from an honest place. It is in the nature of propaganda to distort, not clarify; to close, not open. It is not natural or organic. It is deliberate abuse of the tools of poetry. So in general, no on most political talking points ring poetic to me, even when they are honest, it seems merely a pep talk.

JL: An actors studio question? What is your favorite curse word?

LA: f*ck.

JL: Are you working on or thinking about writing a book of poetry at the present or on any other special projects?

LA: I am working on a book of poetry, but it is taking a good deal of time because I am so focused on two other projects. I am working on a book called "Odessa Mama", which is based on my experiences living in and running from the Soviet Union. The other book is a political thriller, if you can believe that. Plus, I have not found a publisher yet for my book of poems, and so I don't have the kick in the pants to finish it up.


1999 - Moving to New York (with lots of boxes and no space to unpack - filled boxes make good tables and chairs alongside the Broad /Wall in front of my kitchenette, a sink and a teapot for boiling memories.) was hard.

2000 Stuck in New York (with paved shoes and high-heeled streets, dressed up versions of myself -move and alternate - in fetching the small necessities from the corner boxed grocerette, to finding my way home when the landscape is alit with lights and blinking buildings all decked out for making memories).

2000. Adjusting in New York (grinding through the subway, alleyway, some-way, there is always movement, packing me into the Broad ways and
streets of going somewhere fast).

2000. Breathing in New York (alone, boxed away from knowing the grid, grind, guffaws of the metropette, finding my little places that made sense, books were places, the rest was dreaming)

2000. Me in New York (unpacked from another life where soda popped and black was always in, replacing books with faces and chairs with bodies became easier).

2001. Living in New York (with my seat belt fastened, moving from stop to stop in taxiettes, the ways, subways, alleyways, some-ways were used for downtown drop offs, uptown uplifts required
wheels and I was happy to go in either direction with my new faces and bodies, who now had names too).

2001. Living in My New York (I knew the grid and my way back home, looking south toward the twins, they lit the map, my high-heels on paved streets were easy and just as fast as any native, black from head to toe, I breezed - from my way to Broad to Wall - myself back in for a nap before going out again with names who now had memories.)

2001. 9 1 1 (the twins fell so no map was visible to anyone, not even from above the world, bodies were the same as cracks on the sidewalks, even walking ones - parts were in windows and windows were in parts, the world was dusted over, monolithic steel caskets burned live and in color but were called numbers counting down from backwards in time, 7, 2, 1 and 0 became the ground forever).

2001. Leaving New York (with lots of boxes and no space to pack filled boxes make good distractions from memories alongside the Broad/Wall in front of my kitchenette, no teapots large enough to boil out books and chairs who once had names) was hard.

Larisa Alexandrovna � 2006


You cannot press me silent
Bruiser, because I don't have
Enough flags attached to my house,
Or because I don't like your lists and eyes
On lists, or threaten fists against
Me if I won't sit still.

You cannot shove me quiet
Brother, because I don't have crosses
On my wall or because I don't read your
Book or Books of Books, or
Threaten to get your hooks on
Me if I won't agree.

You cannot strike me still
Buster, because I don't rage
Along with you to make the world
Genteel or because I don't want your goods
Or wares, or forced words on worlds,
That don't speak for me.

You cannot hit me "free"
Bully, because my eyes can see
The past and all the other eyes that came
Before mine enough to know that you
Can't have your lies for long before the
Rot stinks up the place.

Larisa Alexandrovna � 2006


She, the conspicuous cargo, watches me walk.

She rolls

her leggy casters to the window

where, on the other side, I ramble

on the street, in the rain, waiting for my own


Her, on the other side of the glass,

watching the legs in the street as though

she was shopping with her last dollar:

Any old pair is fine. Used is fine.

As long as they work well.

Do you have any in my size??

She stares down my red

rain coat and I, coated in rain

and still rambling, slip

and see her for a moment gasp,

as though the last pair in her size

have just been sold.

I get up in my wet red wash,

and mop myself up.

Later, in a coffee cup,

I see spirals, spirals


into the bottom-

through the saucer-into my legs,

like the feeling of putting on new shoes

and feeling your whole leg tighten,


only these are not shoes, they are legs,

sitting, so I stand to try them on,

they seem new, but not my size.

Larisa Alexandrovna � 2006
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