Agnes Marton Interview with Jonathan Cardew
Thank you, Agnes, for joining us for the July Issue at Connotation Press!
Thanks, Jonathan, for selecting my work!
“Man Overboard Situation” is a fun romp, inspired (surely) by your experiences on a research boat in the Arctic. Can you tell us a little about the genesis of this story? And your experiences on that adventure?
In October 2016 I participated in one of the top residencies, The Arctic Circle. This program brings together international artists of all disciplines, scientists and educators who collectively explore remote destinations all around Svalbard aboard a specially outfitted tall ship. I experienced an unforgettable sense of the sublime: beauty and danger, inspiration and fear. On my return I edited a special Arctic edition of The Ofi Press: – here you can read my summary of this trip (besides the editorial in two of my Arctic poems in collaboration with visual artists Sarah Gerats and Viel Bjerkeset Andersen who responded to my poems with videos and photos) alongside fiction and poetry by writers from all over the world, and also a long article by fellow-resident Ellis O’Connor. She’s a Scottish fine artist and photographer.
In my application for this residency, besides quite a few other issues, I mentioned my interest in changes of behaviour in extreme circumstances, especially in danger. Be careful what you wish for! During our trip, we got stuck – luckily only for three days – in a fjord at Dead Man’s Point (a telling name, isn’t it); we were short of drinking water; a small dirt island we worked on was washed away by a mini-tsunami coming from a calving glacier; we did find ourselves in a so-called Man Overboard Situation, and yes, we had our differences with the captain, to say the least. I believe my flash fiction gives back the breathlessness of being picked on, being chased and desperate.
Your CV reads like a really, really good CV for a writer! You have collaborated with artists, had your poems performed by the BBC Singers, attended residencies in Italy, Ireland, and Portugal (to name a few). Tell us about your success—was there a point in your career when you just thought, ‘I’m diving in’? Or did it creep up on you?
Coming from an abusive family, I have always found solace in reading and writing. I started storytelling at the age of four. I won competitions and got published in my teens. I wrote then in Hungarian. I switched into English in the early 90’s when I studied at The University of Denver Publishing Institute. I did not choose to write in English, it just happened.
I don’t consider success in terms of building a career, I’m self-driven. Nevertheless I do appreciate feedback, especially my peers’ respect. I do what I love doing.
Each time I get a residency, some peopIe say I’m lucky, but it’s a lot of hard work to write potential winner applications, luck has not much to do with it. It’s all so competitive, sometimes with thousands of applicants for one place.
I adore risk, challenge and adventures. Whatever can give intriguing material for my writing and opportunities for me to improve, I go for it. Within reason, even a bit beyond.
“Nest” has a poetic feel—with internal rhymes and abrupt paragraphing. I love the voice in this piece and the way that the narrative is parsed to the reader. “Man Overboard Situation” ignores grammar conventions—quite brilliantly—with a verse-like structure for fiction. What are your thoughts on hybrid fiction, and the blurred lines between prose and poetry?
Life is hybrid, isn’t it. A mess. Then this mess can be restructured beautifully with rhythm and balance. With meaning. Whichever form fits the core the best.
Which books do you save from the burning fires of a fascist apocalypse to read in perpetuity until the end of time?
‘The Door’ by Magda Szabó, a fascinating story of betrayal. It is often compared to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. I also love Raymond Carver. Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine. Angela Readman, in particular ‘The Book of Tides.’
On a cheerier note: what can writers, and writing, do in these times of political stress/distress?
I grew up in communist Hungary so I’m used to resistance and subtexts.
What can writers do? They can write, and they do have to speak up. At the moment I’m working on my third protest book (not only against Trump but against any kind of stupid, self-righteous power).
Tell us about a project you’re working on at the moment—be it a book, a story, or anything else.
Besides the above-mentioned protest book I’m about to submit some manuscripts (a poetry pamphlet and a flash fiction collection), I’m building their arcs and filling in the gaps.
Together with Greek composer Vasiliki Legaki we wrote an opera inspired by my first poetry collection ‘Captain Fly’s Bucket List.’ The short version (opera duet) premiered at the Hellenic Centre in London. Now we are working on the extended version. Meanwhile, with an in-between version, we applied to the Hartford Opera Festival. Fingers crossed.
Eileen Tabios asked me to write an ekphrastic poem for her Galatea Resurrects, responding to an image by a Filipino artist. I selected Alvin Pagdanganan Gregorio’s ‘The Circle of Life is Pretty Cool Unless It’s Your Turn to Die.’ I’m just polishing the poem, I will submit it soon.
Thanks so much, Agnes, for your time and excellent fiction!
In order to preserve the artistic arrangement of the writing, this piece has been created with Print2Flash Flashpaper.