Ana Božičević in conversation with Vi Khi Nao
Joy of Missing Out by Ana Božicevic. Birds LLC, $18 trade paper (100p) ISBN 978-0-9914298-7-5
VKN: What is your favorite line (stanza) from Joy of Missing Out?
AB: I like the end of the title poem, that’s also the last poem in the book. The last line and the stanza preceding it.
And will have paid
The price of flesh
For the total randomness
Of my failures here on earth
Guided but not explained
By the light
Of an unsubstanced star
And I shake my ass
At least those are the lines that I most often repeat to myself. But I like a lot of lines in JOMO, actually. I really like the first poem as well, Blessing, and the poem LOL. LOL is as perfect a poem as I could ever write. It’s silly and simple but has all the feels. I guess I peaked with that one.
VKN: If that is your peak, are you ready to slide downhill?
AB: Yeah, but on the other side of the hill. LOL!
VKN: Since this interview is taking place on Mother’s Day and your mother being a philosopher, herself, and JOMO is your third collection (third child) of poems, yes? If you were to connote each collection to a philosopher, who may they be? Stars of the Night Commute, in my mind, is Luce Irigaray and Rise in the Fall, Judith Butler.
AB: Haha, wow, very flattering. Books by Irigaray and Butler were probably knocking about while I was writing those books. I remember Forgetting the Air around the house. If JOMO has some philosophy, the stuff that I have been reading are stoics & pre-Socratic philosophers/thinkers. I went into a different era for a while. Like, Marcus Aurelius and Heraclitus. Haha. I also like Wittgenstein’s “Blue Book” but more for the aesthetic idea of a book that is blue!
VKN: Why were you into the stoics? I associate the stoics with the ability to endure torture.
AB: Yeah, it was for strength to endure things. And also to get my wits about me so I can start being more useful in the world.
VKN: What do you mean by useful? Can one just be? How would you like to be useful?
AB: I mean sometimes, all you can do is just be. To me though that doesn’t seem quite enough. Well, for one, I want to be a better member of my family, a better friend, do more for others on whatever level without endlessly centering my own experience. My being.
VKN: What is your mother like? And, has she read your poems from JOMO?
AB: Mom did read JOMO. Here is what she said about it in a text message: “It wasn’t easy. Visual impression: De Chirico. Most frequent words: I – love – stars. Seahorses be blessed!” I like and love my Mom a lot. We all went through a lot moving to the States, and while for a bit that effort pulled us apart, we are growing into more understanding and solidarity as a fam. She’s extremely capable, curious, responsible, great to talk to.
VKN: In your “#JeSuisCVS” poem, you wrote, “My goal in life/ Is to be a traitor to my race.” Can you enlighten us on what you mean by that? It’s one of my favorite lines from your JOMO.
AB: I grew up in ex Yugoslavia, so coming to the States involved becoming conscious of what being white means in the States, and I hated that I had to be a part of that. And still do. That’s what I mean.
VKN: What is it like to be white in the United States?
AB: You’re complicit in a crime, that’s how it feels like to me.
VKN: What is the crime?
AB: Violence against anyone who’s not a white, Euro-descended inhabitant of the country or, more precisely, the land.
VKN: What is an example of a great betrayal?
AB: I think of when I betray, when I don’t live up to my own expectations for being a human being and hurt people through my ignorance. States constantly betray their citizens and that’s a great and ongoing betrayal.
VKN: What was it like to grow up in a Socialist country? You said once that you took train rides to Vienna to buy non-cardboard chocolate. Did you travel outside of Croatia to more than expand your taste buds? What was that like?
AB: Well, it really wasn’t so bad… Actually, it was kind of great. From my perspective as a kid at least, cause I wasn’t aware of everything adults went through. I grew up on the Adriatic, in a really beautiful old town, and the food was great. Except for occasional chocolate shortages?
VKN: Will you break down your poem on page 58 for us, “It Took So Long for the War to Catch Up”?
AB: So this poem is about darker aspects of your heritage overwhelming the bright, or feeling doomed because of the weight of heritage/PTSD. The most idyllic part of my childhood was my grandparents’ farm where I hung out with animals. There was never anything fancy at the farm, but it was a life where no one worried about status or could even imagine wanting more than fields and what they gave. And then there’s the violence that happened in that country, crazy nationalism & patriarchy & national hatreds, that dislocated my family and killed some of them. Something I am always remembering and seeing the echo of and can’t really get away from, and that’s actually messed with my life quite a bit. And, you know, here I am in NYC, total opposite of that countryside farm, and sometimes I wonder what I’m doing here, and feel like I can’t communicate where I’m from.
VKN: Why can’t you communicate where you’re from?
AB: It took so long for the war to catch up, and for me to find the words to talk about it. I’m trying.
VKN: What is your dream, Ana?
AB: An existence that is not fear-based.
VKN: There are quite a few love poems in JOMO – how romantic are you, Ana?
AB: Super romantic, unfortunately.
VKN: Super romantic? Do tell….And why, unfortunately? It should be a fortune, no? One does not like to be dry bread on sand.
AB: I don’t fall in love much, but when I do it’s very much. It’s not a fortune cause it causes a lot of heartache which at my age I don’t really have time for. Haha. Just kidding, it actually is really cool, and now it’s spring and everyone’s in love and it’s very cute to see. Check out that cloud up there!
VKN: You are still very young, Ana. And, what are you like when you are in love? Is it similar to the way JOMO is born? Or completely different from your poetry collection?
AB: Well, there’s some sad love poems in JOMO, that I am not really feeling the sadness of now or when I’m happily in love. I feel very good when I’m happily in love, well-embodied.
VKN: You primarily love women, yes? What is like to love women?
AB: I don’t know, you tell me? It’s pretty magical, women have to deal with a lot and though we bring our trauma to our loves those encounters also hold a kind of power and strength that nothing else has.
VKN: What kind of power and strength is this?
AB: When I’m with a woman I’m attracted to, who I feel is on the same page with me and I don’t have to hide parts of myself around, it’s the most turned-on yet comfortable that I ever get. Like this vibrating dome of gold is all around us. Haha.
VKN: What is the most super romantic thing a woman has done for you? With vibrating dome and all.
AB: I can think of many instances but I feel maybe it’s private. Kissing and telling is something we do, writers, isn’t it — and I do some of that in my book — but maybe to this I will just say, let’s imagine new romantic gestures we’d like for ourselves and our beloveds. What would you like?
VKN: I am not romantic at all. I think being able to betray something inside of ourselves for someone, which is a warmth or tenderness that is born from loving oneself exceptionally well and thus our lovers get to experience the radiation or electromagnetic waves of such positive duplicity. Can you give me an example of a new romantic gesture that seems ideal?
AB: Forgiveness. I don’t know what I mean by that yet. I like your answer a lot, like giving an invisible gift of some part of yourself to someone.
VKN: The relationship between your grandparents was pretty romantic, yes? Will you tell us what their love is like?
AB: They were together from youth and worked this farm (and bodies) all their lives. At the end she was sitting on the old sofa in the parlor lovingly critiquing his cooking, looking like a rosy hen, while he lovingly cared for her. This lifelong love is almost beyond my comprehension.
VKN: What made their love or lifelong romance successful, you think? And, why do you think it’s difficult for our generation to emulate?
AB: It didn’t even occur to them that they could be with anyone else, I think. And I can’t speak to why that is, but for example my parents’ divorce was incomprehensible to them. They didn’t understand why things had to be complicated when we could all just be there together. And a part of me inherited that very simple hope: maybe we can just be together.
VKN: If you were to take me on a visit to Croatia to introduce me to your homeland, where would you take me and why?
AB: I would take you to Zadar, the sea where I grew up, and then to this farm that I keep going on about. To see the memory hotspots, you know. And then we’d go to Zagreb and chat & have coffee with all my high school friends.
VKN: If we were to have coffee with them, how would they describe you in your teens?
AB: Sad clown. I was an entertainer given to violent fits of gloom. Haha! It was a weird time, we went to high school during the war, and probably bonded in a pretty unique way because of that.
VKN: You have departed from Croatia, did they have the same impulses as you do? What would your life be if you didn’t migrate to America? Would you still be a poet?
AB: I already was a poet. But I was writing in Croatian. When I came to the States it took me a few years to become a poet in English, it just sort of happened. I might not be the kind of poet I am now, that’s for sure. There’s really no way to know.
VKN: Would you want their life? Would they want your life? Who would want each other’s lives more? Do you think?
AB: We live very different lives, but we don’t really compare them to one another. A lot of my friends immigrated, for a while, or recently, and some stayed, and perhaps I don’t talk to them enough to get the complete scoop, what kinds of lives they want for themselves. That’s another goal, talking to my old friends more.
VKN: Who is your favorite Croatian female poet?
AB: The poets I’ve translated most recently are Dorta Jagić, who is incredible, and Darija Žilić, a truly great poet and thinker who writes specifically about the work of Croatian women poets. There are many really exceptional Croatian women writing now, it’s really hard to pick. I would love to have the opportunity to translate and engage with more of these women. In some ways I am one of them.
VKN: Would you like to translate your poetry into Croatian? Samuel Beckett translated his own work from English to French. Would you like to do so with your own work?
AB: Some of it has been translated into Croatian! By the awesome Damir Šodan. It was a weird experience — bizarro world. I did think of myself as a Croatian poet for a long time, but when I saw the poems translated into Croatian, I understood how rooted they were in English. And I translated some of them too.
VKN: What do you mean by this? Rooted they were in English?
AB: They rely lyrically on the meter and sound of English. And the vernacular that I’m around and use in person or online.
VKN: Did you work extensively with your editor and publisher, Sampson Starkweather, on JOMO? What is your relationship with him like?
AB: He’s my BFF, and we will send each other poems as we’re writing them and then discuss them all the way through to the book’s publication. He’s helped me see what was strong in JOMO but we’ve also argued about poems in JOMO — for example, he was anti the poem LOL (anti-LOL) at first, which challenged me to make the whole book a better cradle for that poem, and now it’s his fave.
VKN: What are some responses to the birth of your JOMO? Can you name one that you loved or moved you?
AB: A few people told me they thought the things I write about in JOMO were off limits, especially the parts about mental health. That those poems revealed some aspect of truth. I find that moving and to the point. The truth of this book is very imperfect, maybe that’s OK.
VKN: I love pranks a lot. If you were to pull a prank on a poet you admire? Who would it be and what is your prank?
AB: So I am thinking about the whom part. But for example, something that happened to me once was that I couldn’t find a single copy of any of my books in the house, and for a second I thought, what if I invented it all, what if I didn’t write those books and it was all a delusion. So, maybe you can for example steal some books from a poet’s house and then pretend they were never there and in fact you never even heard of their favorite writer and main influence. Or go to a dude poet’s house and steal all the books by men. That might be fun.