Amongst the madness of it all, Mankind Incorporated does have a management structure. Largely it is invisible and a glance at the news could lead you to think that there was no one at the helm. Behind the scenes there are the economists, planners and executives who keep the show going. A read through of Claude’s CV would leave you in no doubt as to her capabilities. In her professional life she was an economist working on project evaluation for the U.N. She speaks several languages, is a novelist, a painter, journalist, blogger extraordinaire and of course a poet. You can check out her full palmares, book list and gallery here.
I first encountered Claude when I chanced upon her blog. She ranges across the worlds of politics, economics,the arts, publishing and current affairs. These days she is my Numero Uno source of guidance on the subject of world affairs. She is so truly international by virtue of her upbringing and career that she has a unique non tribal neutrality that is like radar in a fog.
For her contibution to Freeze Frame, she set out into the streets of Rome to write a series of poems based around locations and monuments frozen in their own era, yet speaking forward into our time with their eternal lessons. The poems and her physical voice combine to create a completely unique work which I cannot wait to reveal. She delivers her poetry with an inimitably cool accent and a sense of calm humanity and intelligence of which I would be utterly envious; were I not a poet of course and above such things!
Rather than a poem, I am adding one of Claude’s own paintings that she created for the cover of her novel A Hook In The Sky.
You see, working with other writers is a journey of discovery. When I look at this picture I ask myself if it is a poem. Certainly it has psychological depth that poetry often seeks. The more I see of all the guys in Freeze Frame, the more I admire and the less I know.
As part of the series I interviewed Claude about her work.
Primarily I have always known you for your prose. I wanted you in this anthology because of your quality as a writer. You have produced some unique and quite haunting poetry. Clearly the poetry was always there, but was it a challenge to set it free?
A challenge? I guess you could say that, although I’ve never stopped writing poetry all my life, on the sly as it were… It requires letting go of all the logical framework I’m used to operate in – especially as an economist and non-fiction writer. But let’s face it, I already do let go of logic when I write fiction. Characters in my novels are born from the unconscious and they keep doing things that even surprise me! For poetry, it just means taking a further step into the irrational. Letting words echo each other, both in terms of the way they sound and what they mean and what they imply. Also, there’s another aspect, the audio that you support so much for your anthology – and here I follow you one hundred percent! For me, poetry is actually very close to singing. Songs are poor cousins of poems, though the better songs are pure poetry in their own right. The voice matters. And rythm too, it’s much more important than rhyme, which in any case is simply the more traditional form of poetry, largely by-passed by modern poets.
Your poems are set in Rome, yet you bring the eyes of a lifetime and a world to interpret your subjects. Are there universal lessons of philosophy and history that will always be of the moment?
Definitely. For me, it’s a continuum: the moment “freezes” timeless, universal lessons. Ha! How do you like that definition of Freeze Frame? Actually, I’d like to add that the very title of your anthology inspired the particular form of poetry I chose for it. I picked some “meaningful” corners of Rome and just let go my imagination, associating the present with the past…
You are a true citizen of the world. Your objective non tribal viewpoint is a joy to those of us who follow your blogs and essays. Where is home for you in terms of tribe and location?
To be honest, I have multiple homes, Earth is my home. I belong to the nomadic tribe par excellence – my father and grandfather were both world-travellers, we spoke several languages at home – and “home” has varied in function of what I did with my life. After a fantastic series of sojourns in Egypt, Russia, France and South America, I attended an American university in the biggest metropolitan town in the world: Columbia U. in New York. That shaped me, no question about it. But after graduation and a first job, I didn’t stay in America. By the time I’d turned 32, I was back in Europe and feeling at home all over the continent. I finally settled in Rome, the birthplace of our civilization. That’s something I feel strongly about. Yet for 25 years I travelled for work in over 80 countries around the world, from Vietnam to Peru, soaking in the differences and revelling in the warm feeling of being able to come back every time to my home in Rome!
You share with Joseph Conrad the fact that English is not your first language. No one would know but does it alter/enrich your approach to the way you express yourself?
Enrich my approach? I don’t know, you, and all my readers, should be able to judge that! It’s interesting you mention Conrad, I always think (and feel) rather closer to Nabokov who loved to play with words and wrote of course as you know in three languages (Russian, German, English). I studied German but alas it is the one language I don’t know and I regret that. I studied Russian too but I also forgot it entirely (out of practice, out of mind). Ditto for Swedish (my first language, even before French). The result? For a long time, a horrible hodge-podge, too many languages. A struggle to express myself without having words from another language popping into my mind and interfering with the process…Eventually, with much effort, I managed to overcome the problems and I suppose you might say I’ve become rather articulate. I hope so. One thing is certain: I love words, I love to find out about their origin. Semantics is fascinating, I’m endlessly curious about the links between words as you move from one language to another.
A big element of the Freeze Frame project is the actual physical “Voice” of the poets. Another contributor has described the recording process as a form of nakedness. How was it for you?
Feeling naked? Yes and how! It’s strange because it’s exactly the way I felt every time I participated in a show as a painter. My paintings were giving me away – here was my secret inner self for all to see! Saying my own poems made me terribly anxious in the exact same way. Did I sound like I was “full of myself”? Was I giving with my voice too much importance to the words I had written? Was I (cringe!) bombastic? Horror!
Who are your favourite writers – in any of your languages?
My favorite writers are generally Russian, from Tolstoy and Dostoievski to Gogol and Bulgakov, Solgenytsin…But I imagine you want to know about poets. Then I have to say Federico Garcìa Lorca, Verlaine, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, T.S.Eliot, Leopardi…yes, the classics! But I’m intrigued by the moderns, don’t take me wrong. For example, Alice Oswald with her Dart river poem…And of course, all the poets in your anthology. Their dedication, their sensibility, their inspiration, their ear, their voice…I’m impressed and I take this opportunity to thank you for bringing them all together, including yourself in this anthology! Freeze Frame is a fascinating project, particularly the audio aspect which brings poetry right back to its troubadour origins…
When I started this project I had half a plan to create a 50/50 mix of British and American writers. As things have turned out Claude is the wild card entry who delineates the pendulum swing of the collection. It is a joy to have her on board. When I asked her about which of her paintings I could include in this blog she offered me a selection. Amongst them was a picture that once again took my mind into the labyrinth of poetry and indeed to the concepts of surrealist art. Check out Cavalli Enigmae.