David Herrle SubtleTea Interview with Aurora Antonovic
D: By now you've been widely recognized for your artistic establishment and prolificacy, garnering honors such as Pushcart Prize nomination. You're a positive, seemingly bottomless purveyor of presentation for others' writing who somehow produces a lot of personal art. (You edit, blog, and create visual art as Bill Clinton philanders!) You've also managed to produce Magnapoets Print magazine in the last few months. Please assess your achievements up to now. Would you change any step of the way if you could? Do you have other, non-artistic life dreams (if such is possible) that you'd like to realize before your mortal curtain closes?
A: Thanks for the positive comments, but we'll have to talk about that Clinton remark. When I made my first submission to Poetic Voices a few years ago, little did I know just how much things would snowball. I've learned a lot since then. I wish I had been a little more selective as far as whom I collaborated with, or which publications I allowed to have my work. Because I come from a print publishing background, and because Poetic Voices was such a polished, professional publication with only the highest standards, I assumed other online sites were equally stringent in conduct. Sadly, they are not. It's no secret that my work has been plagiarized, and that I've had a bad collaborating experience with someone who misrepresented himself and tried to steal my work.
This was partly the reason for starting Magnapoets: we're hoping to restore the world of poetry to the highest standards in print and online. Other than that, my only goals are to relearn Serbian, a language I haven't spoken since I was a little girl, and to get involved in a cultural museum as soon as I get a little free time.
D: Your favorite book(s) and film(s)?
A: My favourite book is the Bible, which I've read since I was a child. My shelves are full of poetry books by both classic and modern poets, as well as history books, volumes of theology, and autobiographies. Real life is always more fascinating than fiction. However, I love books like the Anne of Green Gables series, and there is always room for fairy tales, particularly if they're accompanied by lush art.
Rarely do I watch films, but when I do, they're usually something foreign, unless we're talking about classics, like To Kill A Mockingbird (also a favourite book). I tend to classify movies by actors, so if there's something with Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart, Fred Astaire, or Barbara Stanwyck, I'll watch it. The other night I was able to watch The Boy With Green Hair!
D: Reflecting on the negative passages in the biblical Psalms, C.S. Lewis writes: "The shadows have indicated...something more about the light." What does this statement mean to you?
A: Having been orphaned at an early age, I know a lot about shadows. The question of pain and suffering is not something for which I have an answer, but I know it's a fact of life. For some reason, the more I've suffered the more of an optimist I've become, which has surprised no one more than myself. Any good artist will tell you that the bigger the contrast between darkness and light, the more beautiful the image, so I suppose sorrow has its place. The best way to dispel darkness is to let in the light, and the harder the times, the more we have to focus on what is good, peaceful, and gentle.
D: I notice a monogamous trend in your love poetry. Very exclusive, very private and intimate, full of imagery of belonging and claiming (particularly in "Yours"). While many poets, especially "empowered" females it seems, rejoice in promiscuity or stringlessness, you seem to treasure cloistered, mutual moments rather than cosmopolitan erotica. Please discuss.
A: We write what we know, and I had parents who modeled this type of committed love. I don't think there is a greater gift that parents can give children than to have harmony in the home. I witnessed it, and I believe in it wholeheartedly. Faithfulness, chastity, love, purity, respect, and fidelity are not archaic terms to me, but reality, and the most basic way to live.
D: Do you have a current favorite of your poetry that you'd like to share with us?
A: My favourite personal poem is often the one I'm working on at present, but my work seems so small compared to greats who have gone on before, that I wonder if you'd permit me a little poetic licence to instead quote an English translation of one of my favourite poets, Aleksa Santic. It goes like this:
We Know Our Fate
We know our fate and what to expect from life,
Yet, our hearts will not freeze in fear!
Oxen are forced the yoke to bear,
God gave freedom to all men alike.
Our strength is like a mountain river's sway,
No one will ever stop its flow!
How to face death these people know,
If free to stay there is no other way.
We know our path, the path of God-the-Son,
And mighty like a mountain river's flow.
We will go even over the sharpest stones,
Ready to climb the Golgotha all the way.
And even if you take our only lives away,
Our graves will stay to fight you on!
D: Isms and ologies fail me. I think they fail Humanity, and Humanity fails them. The machine can't fix the machine. I don't invest much faith in social or political programs, reforms, and certainly not in the current fetish for change for change's sake. Even when I find myself in accordance with some or most of a certain mass notion or movement, I cringe and retreat. Just as concert or rally crowds repulse me, so does most unanimity and herd praxis. How do you treat programs and systems? Do you believe in ultimate salvation by Humanity for Humanity? Is Love a realistic achievement on a global, impersonal scale or does it move successfully from heart to heart rather than across the atlas?
A: I subscribe to the notion that if everyone's doing it, there must be something wrong with it. J But at the same time, I see beauty and order in structured groups if they are built on a good foundation and adhere to high standards. I'm the youngest of a large family, thirteen children in fact, and my father used to teach us the importance of sticking together. He used to do this demonstration where he would assemble all thirteen of us children, the first five who were old enough to be my parents, all the way down to myself, who was around three years old at the time. He'd give us each a branch that represented our own individuality, and have us try to break it. Some of us could bend ours, others could cause them to break, but when he put thirteen branches together, they couldn't be broken. That was a great visual, and one that I recall often, so I'm not against groups, as long as they are good.
But I don't believe systems save us, nor do I believe social movements equal salvation. I also don't have much faith in human nature, but lots in God, and think that if He is the head of an organization, it will thrive. For example, many of the world's leading universities, like Princeton and Harvard, were started by religious men who understood the value of shaping the mind. Hospitals were an off-shoot of faith and people who put their love of God into action. So good groups start with good people, from one to many, and as long as they stay true to the cause, they will be prevented from becoming just another useless movement.
D: Let's think about salvation through superfluity. Throughout history, there has been a tension between humanity's tendency to lapse into mass mentality and to assert individualism. When herdism reigns, spirit and creation suffer or die. Human creativity finds salvation through the superfluous more than in the useful. Embellishment saves; novelty subverts asceticism. Without going as far as Kant's insistence on total disinterestedness, I wonder if the bonus quality of art is more important than ingenuity as mere social/political means, applicability, and what Lewis Mumford called the "deeply anesthetic and life-denying quality of the utilitarian philosophy". Walter Pater, in Swinburne's footsteps, praised art for its undogmatic passion. As much as I dislike most musicals, I find Mary Poppins to be a masterpiece (especially since musicals contain that "for the hell of it" excess.) And the central theme of "a spoonful of sugar" seems to support the superfluous salvation. A simple, powerful retort to conformist, Man-as-means drudgery is indeed "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!"
Martin Buber wrote: "Perception draws out of the being the world that we need; only vision and, in its wake, art transcends need and makes the superfluous into the necessary." If the spirit is sick or ignored, amenities and increased lifespan only whitewash graves, glaze decay. The "man cannot live on bread alone" bit is deeper than we can imagine. (This is not to cheer for totally amoral, anti-conceptual, metaphysically numb art, but moral and conceptual demands on art sow deadly seeds in the long run.) Some relative, transcribed (and conspicuously male) quotes and clips are included below to whet your answer.
H.A.L., the remarkable, articulate computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey: "I am constantly occupied. I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all, I think, any conscious entity can ever hope to do."
Nicolas Berdyaev: "...the idea of utility...is the most hostile of all to the idea of beauty."
Karl Jaspers: "The mass-man...does not want to exert himself except for some concrete aim which can be expressed in terms of utility..."
Carl Jung: "Society expects, and indeed must expect, every individual to play the part assigned to him as perfectly as possible..."
Walter Pater: "[A]rt comes to you professing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments' sake."
A: I believe in art for art's sake, but believe that art has been misrepresented over the years as something trite, superficial, and merely pretty. We can't imagine what it would be like to live without it because, in the form of nature especially, it is all around us. Even were we to be, God forbid, locked and shackled away somewhere, we couldn't escape art because the Bible teaches that WE are God's art. The actual verse is, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). The Greek word for "workmanship" means craft, or art, like a masterpiece. And since we can't escape ourselves, it means that we are always encompassed by art.
Along with art goes individuality. There has to be freedom of intellect and expression in order to create quality art. The best artists are those who have active, discerning, churning minds, who think for themselves, and have the wherewithal to define and defend their art, and believe me, that defining moment comes to each artist.
Art is one of the most useful and practical things in the world because it not only makes the world more palatable, but it brings out the best and highest calling in ourselves.
D: Aurora, I'm proud to know you, and I respect your work and personality. May blessings shower your path. Have you any closing words for readers/fans?
A: Thank you for those kind words, and for this interview, David. I have two things I'd like to say to fellows poets: be passionate about your work, aim for highest standards, and others will notice. A burning bush is pretty hard to hide. And secondly, protect your work. Be careful to whom you show unpublished poems, and keep diligent records of everything. Just because someone slaps the title of "editor" on him or herself, doesn't mean it's earned. Submit only to the best places, and if in doubt, verify the credentials independently, and ask for references from respected writers.
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