Poet Ana Božičević was born in Croatia and moved to the States in the late 1990s. She released her debut book of poetry in 2009 (Stars of the Night Commute via Tarpaulin Sky) and has since released two more collections: Rise in the Fall in 2013 and Joy of Missing Out in 2017 (both via Birds, LLC). Gravitating toward hybridity and expanding the scope of her pen, Božičević has incorporated poetry comics into her work as well as hypermodern text-talk. Whimsical, reflective, and surreal, Božičević’s bibliography is one to admire. I spoke with the poet and translator (who is also working on a novel!) about her conceptual releases, her favorite place on the planet, one hell of a writing prompt, and more.
Let's begin with an icebreaker. What's your favorite place on the planet? It can be as large as a city or as small as a closet.
It’s this village called Prozor (Window) in Croatia. Here’s a picture (posted below). The big mountain peeking at the left is Prozorina (Window Mountain?).
By the time this interview runs, the calendar year will be almost halfway done. Time is perhaps pointless, but how has the first part of the year treated you?
2019, or twenty onety-nine as I like to think of it, has been a lot. I broke my arm the last week of 2018, so this year began with a surgery wherein a titanium rod was inserted into the bone of my upper arm. I am mostly better now and I work out to “Titanium.” Also, I moved apartments after many years. It feels like 2019 is pushing me into a new life. More on that later. I welcomed the spring and I’m ready for the summer. I’m pretty sure it’s not 2019 in the universe but I dig the seasons.
The majority of your first two books contain lengthier poems, while your third book showcases short(er) poems in much higher frequency. Given that JOMO includes emojis and text-talk, would you say that brevity was also an important component to this collection? Did the process happen naturally or did you find yourself forcing yourself to cut / stop short / finish earlier?
Brevity is the soul of JOMO; in RISE IN THE FALL, the lines are long and tumbling, essayistic, while JOMO poems can read like a late-night text. That’s essentially what some of them are. There’s a poem in there:
I’m leaving this for you
When in distraction and
Turn to social media
For a signal or
This is it!
... It’s ok
Go to sleep I’ll be here.
At the time it was for me and also just what I wanted to put out in the world for anyone who’s scrolling late at night. And in that spirit I also wrote a lot of these poems on my phone: I liked that it capitalizes first lines, which I was looking for, for that old-school lyric feel, and typing in that way when you touch the letters made me appreciate every letter...and it forces short lines. Writing on the phone—you can do it easily under the covers. But a love of brevity, like, epigrammatic, lapidary utterance, comes to me among other places from the medieval tombstone poems of Eastern Europe:
Heaven was in me.
I didn’t know it before
I fell among the stars
...from haiku, Gary Snyder’s translations of Han Shan’s Cold Mountain Poems and the idea that he just left them there written on cliffs, both eternal and kinda writ on water, and from a love of Lucille Clifton’s luminous short poems, and St Giraud / Bill Knott’s, WCW’s, and Diane di Prima’s...
Your second book is divided with art by Bianca Stone, who was interviewed on this site back in December. Did you know while you were writing these poems that you wanted the collection to be mixed media? What made you add poetry comics? Do you see yourself experimenting with multiple art forms in the future within your books?
I’ve always loved and hung out with visual artists. Bianca is a poet and a visual artist, it all happened kind of organically cause we were all friends, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else’s work on the cover or within the body of the book—it’s as simple as that. And she incorporated language from the poems and manifested them in her art in totally sublime ways. RISE IN THE FALL would not be itself without Bianca.
I also love comics, grew up devouring them. And I hope to have more collaborations with visual artists and have some in mind. I like how you say the book is “divided” by the art, like the sea cut by the wake of a ship.
You've released three books with four years in between each. Given that timeline, can we expect your next collection in 2021? Perhaps a better question is: what are you currently working on?
On so many things! Well, I pretty much finished a book of poems, A NEW LIFE. I put it in a drawer a couple of months ago, because the actual putting in motion of the new life took over. I feel it needs summer poems, an ending like a sunset. So that’s my plan now for the next few. The bread is rising in the drawer. I’m also working on a novel (LOL) called DEB BINCH or...THE 6 DREAMS OF DEB BINCH, not sure yet. It’s a kind of speculative autofiction. It also comes with an album of deep takes and bangers and covers, which I’m trying to record in the bathroom. If I can see all these things through I will be happy.
Are you currently working on any translation? Do you return to Croatia often?
I’m going at the end of June. It’s my dad’s 70th birthday then. Happy birthday, tata!
I always want to be working on translation, and I was so happy to publish a book with Phoneme Media, IT WAS EASY TO SET THE SNOW ON FIRE by Zvonko Karanović, poems in translation, not so long ago. There are many poets I’d love to channel in that enriching way. That’s also part of my current mission. :)
Outside of your own work, who/what have you been reading recently?
Again so much. I’ve been loving and following recent Birds, LLC books by Raquel Salas Rivera and Harmony Holiday, and new books by Cynthia Arrieu King and Gala Mukomolova and two from Diane di Prima. There is so much incredible poetry coming out these days, I am at a loss for words :) We are blessed with the power and complexity of work coming at us across media. As they say, I am here for it.
If you can, provide a photo of your workspace or describe with words. What are some essentials while you create?
Right now I am sitting at a window with a glass of water and yeah, a smoke. I like to write on my phone lately for the above reasons. Then often I write things down by hand and especially song lyrics and chords which I’m trying to transcribe like a real person. I sit at home a lot catching whatever vibe decides to come my way. I also love to write on the subway.
This is my little desk this morning.
For this ongoing author interview series, I'm asking for everyone to present a writing prompt. It can be as abstract or as concrete as you choose.
Close your eyes
You are sitting in a dark movie theater.
It’s quiet except for the occasional rustle.
You’re looking up at the screen where the movie is playing.
Right now it’s the scene of a landscape.
What’s the landscape.
Where is it. Do you recognize it.
Now you see a person slowly approaching from the distance.
They’re coming closer and closer, until you can recognize them.
Who is it.
What is their facial expression like.
This person begins to talk.
What do they say.
They’re holding out an object, a thing.
What is the thing.
In closing, do you have any advice for writers working on their craft?
I’m gonna quote Daniel Johnston if that’s ok.
“Listen up and I'll tell a story
About an artist growin' old
Some would try for fame and glory
Others like to watch the world”
Watching and seeing. Not turning away. Trusting that your imagination is bottomless.
Any final thoughts / words of wisdom / shout-outs?
Speaking of the world...What if we’re the last generations of poets writing about the world as we know it? What’s the poethics of that? What’s our duty. I believe it’s now or never and as a poet I owe a debt to nature, it’s at the very basis of how I understand structure and meaning, not to mention I am its physical child. I guess I should get rid of that smoke.