Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Haidee Kruger is a South African academic and poet. She currently lives in Sydney, where she works as research fellow in the Department of Linguistics at Macquarie University. Her first collection of poems, Lush: Poems for Four Voices (Protea Book House), was published in 2007, followed in 2012 by The Reckless Sleeper (Modjaji Books). She has published widely in South African literary journals, and her work has featured in recent collections of contemporary South African poetry in The Common and Big Bridge. Some of her readings are available on the Badilisha Poetry X-change.
Haidee’s academic work focuses on translation, and her recent book Postcolonial Polysystems: The Production and Reception of Translated Children’s Literature in South Africa (John Benjamins, 2012) was the co-recipient of the 2013 European Society for Translation Studies (EST) Young Scholar Award.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED AS A WRITER?
My writing has its roots in reading. As a child, I was an obsessive reader. From the moment I discovered the magic of books, reading was all I wanted to do. And the more I read, the more I became fascinated by language. We take language for granted, and forget what an astounding, powerful thing it is—allowing one human to put thoughts into another human’s head. Language is the ultimate superpower. So the more I read, the more I wanted to figure out how language works; how people put words together in different shapes to make others think and feel in particular ways.
My poetry has really always in the first instance been a personal exploration of the ways in which language can be reshaped, reinvented to make its relationship with experience new for oneself, and for others. My academic work, too, is driven by wanting to understand how language works inside of people, between people, between cultures.
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
At the moment my writing is mostly focused on research, especially projects that look at how translated language always seems to be a little bit “off”, or “unnatural”, when compared to “normal” language—like a piece of music with almost imperceptible false notes in between that somehow spoils the whole thing. Translations get a lot of bad press for this reason. I’m interested in finding out why this happens.
In between all of this, I try to make space for poetic writing too. But sometimes the two kinds of writing are so different, and one takes up too much space in my head, squeezing out the other. So I tend to alternate between periods where I do more academic writing, and periods when poetry dominates. Often, though, a poem gets really insistent and demands attention. Poetry’s a bit like a small child, that way.
Here are some poems I published in The Common and Big Bridge, respectively:
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
At home I have a very large desk in the corner of our sitting room. It’s a quiet room, with high ceilings and leaded windows.
WHEN DO YOU WORK?
I’m larkish by temperament, and tend to do most of my writing work in the mornings.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
Poetry tends to come in pieces; words or phrases that I’ll jot down over a period of time. At some point they start finding a shape, and then there is usually a rewriting and revising phase of a day or two.
Academic writing is different, for me. I often use writing as a way of working out ideas. So the writing process is also a thinking process.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
My poetry and my academic work are both driven by my curiosity about how language works in pulling the inner and the outer together; how it works inside people’s heads, in the world outside, and in the funny space in between one’s head and the world. I am very lucky to have discovered two very different ways of exploring the same question.
Here’s another interview I did with Gary Cummiskey from Dye Hard Press where I talk a little more about that: “Shaking Language out of the Furrows of Habit”
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOUR WRITING?
I am inspired by all the ordinary and extraordinary ways in which all people use language to make sense of the world. On any given day, this might be the discovery of a new poem or poet, or a revisit of a familiar one, an overheard snatch of conversation on the train in which somebody twists language in a funny way, my 12-year-old daughter’s truly astonishing mastery of irony, or the way in which my youngest does something utterly novel with words to capture something about the way in which his 5-year-old self lives in the world.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
Time and balance.
WHICH FEMALE AUTHORS WOULD YOU LOVE TO HEAR MORE FROM?
I’ve recently read a lot of old favourites which left me wanting more: Margaret Atwood, Anne Carson, Antjie Krog, Jeanette Winterson. Lately I’ve really been intrigued by the work of Rebecca Solnit, Leslie Jamison and Roxane Gay.
WHICH FEMALE AUTHORS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INTERVIEWED ON WORDMOTHERS NEXT?
Some of the South African female poets whose work I admire, among them Makhosazana Xaba, Joan Metelerkamp, Colleen Higgs, Genna Gardini, Philippa Yaa de Villiers, Malika Ndlovu, Michelle McGrane.
Thank you, Haidee Kruger!
— Nicole Melanson
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