Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Larissa Shmailo is editor-in-chief of the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry (Big Bridge Press), poetry editor for MadHat Annual, and founder of The Feminist Poets in Low-Cut Blouses. She translated Victory over the Sun for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s celebrated reconstruction of the first Futurist opera; the libretto is now available from Červená Barva Press. Larissa has also been a translator on the Russian Bible for the Eugene A. Nida Institute for Biblical Scholarship of the American Bible Society.
Larissa’s poetry collections are #specialcharacters (Unlikely Books), In Paran (BlazeVOX [books]), A Cure for Suicide (Červená Barva Press), and Fib Sequence (Argotist Ebooks). Her poetry CDs are The No-Net World and Exorcism (SongCrew); tracks are available from Spotify, iTunes, Muze, and Amazon. Larissa won the New Century Awards for jazz, rock, electronica and best album for Exorcism. Her novel, Patient Women, is forthcoming from BlazeVOX [books].
WHEN DID YOU START WRITING?
As a writer, capital W, at age 36. I was welcomed immediately into the New York City open mike circuit as a poet and a performer, and began getting wonderful features right away. Editors asked me for my work, which was thrilling.
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
My translation of the first Futurist opera, Victory over the Sun by Aleksei Kruchenych, which I did for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and which has been performed and studied all over the world, is in print: Larissa Shmailo’s translation of Victory over the Sun.
Says Gerald Janacek of my translation:
Victory over the Sun, one of the most important events in Russian Futurism and in the avant-garde in general, is not well recognized in the West. Now in a new edition of Larissa Shmailo’s brilliant translation of the text, with a lively introduction by Eugene Ostashevsky, readers can appreciate the significance and innovativeness of the 1913 play. Using Shmailo’s translation and Malevich’s pathbreaking stage designs, the play was reconstructed and staged in 1980 to great acclaim and remains a signal accomplishment in the history of the avant-garde.
—Gerald Janecek, Author of Zaum: The Transrational Poetry of Russian Futurism (UCSD, 1996) and Sight and Sound Entwined (Berghahn Books, 2000)
We are restaging the opera with music and choreography at Boston University April 23.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
It is my dining room table and is surrounded by bookshelves. It is usually untidy.
WHEN DO YOU WORK? WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
I have my own business, Scribes Media, for writing, editorial, and translation services, and there is no typical day – I eat what I catch. I tend to work on my own literary projects in the A.M. and late afternoon/evenings.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
I sit down at the computer and start to type. Occasionally, I bring ideas there that I get lying on the couch, but my substantive writing is done by engaging the blank page. I usually complete poems in one sitting and have a bad habit of polishing the beginning of unfinished novels and screenplays instead of forging on. I procrastinate mightily on reviews.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
I am inspired by my brilliant mentor, Annie Finch. A brilliant, creative, loving individual who has taught me volumes about poetry.
I mine my own story for dark poems and prose, I listen for strange juxtapositions, things that ordinarily wouldn’t mix. I also gratefully accept prompts and commissions.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
Managing my time, which I waste in buckets, but it relaxes me so to be a little time drunk. I need a lot of silence, time without television or books or word processors, but I also have a passionate need to write my screenplay, so I am conflicted.
WHAT IS YOUR ARTISTIC VISION?
I am grateful that my debut novel, Patient Women, is being published by BlazeVOX [books] and would like to write a historical novel entitled Dora, based on my parents’ experience interned in the Dora Northausen concentration camp. I also am writing a screenplay which I’d like to see made into a film. I’d like to see more communities for women like WordMothers, especially writing groups where work is shared with female peers.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE FEMALE AUTHORS?
Annie Finch, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Emily Dickenson, Anne Elliott
WHICH FEMALE AUTHORS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INTERVIEWED ON WORDMOTHERS NEXT?
Annie Finch, Anne Elliott, and Joani Reese
Thank you, Larissa Shmailo!
— Nicole Melanson
* Author photo by Joel Simpson
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