Though I have admired Maria Takolander’s poetry for a number of years now, I only got in touch with her a couple of months ago when I decided I’d like to write about her poem “Geography Lessons” in my Poems Revisited series. When this email exchange took place I was soon to travel to Melbourne, so I asked Maria if I might be able to interview her as well. Over a brisk weekend visiting my parents and friends, I took a day out to drive to Geelong’s Deakin University campus and meet with Takolander.
Before we sat down to conduct this interview we talked for a couple of hours, sharing lunch and a coffee. At a similar stage of her poetic career to myself, it was wonderful to find that we instantly connected over our experiences as poets beginning to establish ourselves, but also as writers of other forms.
Reviewing Ghostly Subjects, Martin Duwell suggested that while Australia lacks a minimalist tradition, a large portion of your writing could be labelled “minimalist”: is this how you think of your own work? At the same time you’ve written a critical book about Magical Realism, a genre not often associated with minimalism. To begin—what was your experience of writing on this subject of Magical Realism?
I feel that Magical Realism had degenerated into something of a cliché by the time I finished writing my book about it; people were churning out magical realist novels because it was popular, and because it sold well. My resistance to that mode in my own work comes from the clichéd nature of what Magical Realism has become, both actually and in the popular imagination.
I see the roots of Magical Realism in the work of Borges, and how what he does both as a poet, and as a short fiction writer whose fictions almost read like non-fiction: that this is a minimalist version or precursor of magical realism. I can see Borges as a figure that floats behind your work in some ways.
Yes! These days Magical Realism is seen as a maximalist genre, whereas Borges writes with such discipline. If discipline is akin to minimalism, then I might be amenable to that “charge.” I don’t know that I write in a minimalist style—I think, if anything, I write in a hysterical voice! Sometimes I think I’m being funny, but I’m not sure if I achieve that. The sense of minimalism, though, probably comes through discipline… I do like to discipline my verse! Perhaps too much…