Interview of Djelloul Marbrook by Seb Doubinsky in The Tabago Page

Djelloul Marbrook

Interview of Djelloul Marbrook by Seb Doubinsky in The Tabago Page


Djelloul Marbrook is an American writer, essayist and poet. His works include Far from Algiers, Saraceno, Brash Ice and Shadow of the Heron.

What is your earliest reading memory?

Tabloid headlines, probably 103 pt. hot lead headlines. I lived with Grandma Huldah and my Aunt Dorothy in Brooklyn and they used to cut out tabloid headlines as we sat on the floor in order to teach me the alphabet and how to string letters together. They made paste out of flour and water and we pasted words and then short sentences on sheets of paper. I remember how happy I was. It’s no wonder I eventually made a living writing headlines.

Has writing been a conscious choice or a natural thing for you?

I used to sit next to my stepfather in his office on 19th Street in Manhattan and do my homework when I was in high school. He loved Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The translation is great fun, quite musical, and utterly misleading. I liked it, but I had grown up in a Protestant boarding school run along English public school lines—it had been set up for East Anglian evacuees during World War II, and I was one of the very few Americans—so I took it on myself to respond to Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat from a Christian perspective, using his own prosodic schemata. I was hooked on prosody and began to study it intensely.

Do you have any special habits or rituals when you write?

Yes, I walk. I carry notebooks in my pocket, and lately I have also been using a small digital voice recorder. I like studying my handwriting when I transcribe my work. It provides invaluable clues to what I was feeling and to the cadences and demeanor of the language. Similarly, the voice recorder helps me recapture the moment and revisit its intent and impulse. Moving and writing seem essential to me. I tend to talk to myself.

Do you choose your stories/poems or do the stories/poems choose you?

They choose me. Sometimes they’re rooted in dreams, sometimes in a few words that come to me, sometimes in remembered songs or hymns. Sometimes a face or a glance inspires a reverie and that reverie becomes a story or a poem.

What national books/authors do you enjoy re-reading and why?

Well, I encountered almost no Americans until I was in my second year at a prep school in Manhattan. I knew the British succession before I knew the American presidencies. But there is no doubt Herman Melville, Stephen Crane, Ernest Hemingway, Edith Wharton, Anne Hutchinson, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, and William Carlos Williams have been big influences on me. I’m wary of this question because so many writers have sunk into my subconscious and I’ve read so many that any attempt to answer the question is inadequate. That said, I would say Dickinson is my strongest influence among the American poets. Among the British, besides, Eliot and Auden, both expats, I would say Donne, Marvell, Chapman, and Yeats, if I may include him among the British without offending his Irish compatriots.

What foreign books/authors do you enjoy re-reading and why?

Ibn al Arabi, Hafez, Fernando Pessoa, Jose Saramago, and Juan Goytisolo.

What is so important about fiction/poetry?

They comprise the cutting edge of human sensibility. They bespeak the Zeitgeist. They are the real news of our society. What we call the news is the noise. They are our evolutionary ladders to which we climb to what we are capable of imagining.

Flaubert says he was physically sick when he wrote Emma Bovary’s death. Are you empathetic with your characters?

Extremely. They inhabit me. They go rogue. They take over. They argue with me. They beguile me. They listen to me. I listen to them. They are not my inventions. They are my visitors, daemons, elementals. My lovers.

Can you cry writing your own poem?

I sob from time to time. I try to rub the sob away, but it’s stubborn. It’s often how I discern a true note from a failed note.

What is your ideal reader?

I don’t know. I have no presuppositions. A creature I’ve yet to meet, an angel.

Should writers be embraced by society or should they be exiled?

In market society I think it’s sadly inevitable that writers get in their own ways. We tend to celebrate the writer, not the poem or the novel. We equate celebrity and success and money with merit. As a newspaper editor I unfailingly pissed off publishers and did my career little good by arguing that best-seller lists belonged on business pages, not book pages, because they reflected market, not merit, and were almost always lists of mediocre books that marketers were willing and able to promote rather than the very best work of our civilization. They knew I was right, but they thought it churlish of me to mention it. That’s what our market obsessions do to us; they make us gamesters. Ideally, a poet or an artist would be nameless. My next book of poems is called Northing True Has a Name, but in a market society we seek to categorize and label and pigeonhole. The celebrities we revere are not even themselves, they’re projections of the market.

Is there a God or are there gods for writers?

I’m that rare Christian who is delighted to make room for the pagan gods. My God is definitely not a man or even anthropoid. My work is prayer.

What makes a writer a writer?

Ruthless integrity.

Tell us about your fiction/poetry.

I’m interested in nobility of spirit in the face of extreme adversity. I’m interested in the currents that pass between people of which we’re habitually afraid to speak. I’m interested in the moment seized.  I regard my poems as algorithms, or, to use a different metaphor, lanterns.

What is the purpose of your writing?

To shed light.  I see myself as a celebrant, a witness.

How do you really feel about recognition and fame? Are you a satisfied mind or always craving for more?

In a society that serves the market servilely the writer is bound to get in the way of the poem or story. We are bound to misinterpret currency and immediacy. For example, we seek out minority writers who explicitly address what the press defines as news. Consequently, we’re bound to mislead ourselves and be misled. Poetry and fiction and art are the real news of our society. They reflect the farthest reaches of our sensibility, and that’s news, that’s immediacy, not what the press tells us is news, which is more noise than noise.  What the press calls the news, what the press says is urgent, is the official narrative of the corpora-fascist state. That’s why the press in a supreme act of smugness is always writing poetry’s obituary—because it knows that poetry is the real news. Poets and editors who claim they are addressing the most pressing issues of our time are usually market-minded, because all great art addresses the most pressing issues in its own way. Artists absorb the Zeitgeist, they breathe it; they don’t address it, they don’t throw darts at it. Our ideas of reality and currency and relevance are received ideas, part of an official narrative in which we claim to know much more than we can know. That’s why we get these mindless headlines that purport to tell us all we need to know about this and the top ten that—they’re all phony and breathtakingly hubristic. It’s what we don’t know that offers hope. It’s in our awe that we progress.

Read this interview from its original link

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