Irene Koronas is a multi-media artist, painter, poet and editor of Wilderness House Literary Review. She is the author of three volumes of poetry, self portrait drawn from many (Ibbettson Street Press, 2007), Pentakomo Cyprus (Cervena Barva Press, 2009), turtle grass (Muddy River Books, 2014) and many chapbooks. Her visual art has been shown in a number of regional galleries.
Mary Buchinger Bodwell interviewed Irene for Solstice in February 2015. Excerpts of the interview appear below.
MB: Do you think of your own work as experimental?
IK: Most of my life my work has been experimental.
MB: What led you to be innovative in your writing?
IK: I think it came with painting, you know, with Dadaism and the surrealists, with looking at paintings that used collage and word. I’ve been writing since I’ve been painting.
MB: And you think of it as experimental now?
IK: Not as much as I used to, because I’m older . . . My experiment now is with trying to make more sense in my poems. For so long they [the poems] were so obscure, allowing me to take these journeys. Now I’m trying to find ways to be more accessible and still be playful. It’s not easy to be playful and to carry the thread of thought through. This is not something I’m used to doing, you know, I like to jump around.
MB: More accessible, is that what you mean by carrying the thread through?
IK: Well . . . at least in each verse having something that makes sense to readers, even if it doesn’t blend with the previous. To have something that will stimulate them to think, open them up. Poetry is not like TV, it’s not a straight story. I like people to think. People want things handed to them, you know, especially in poetry: here it is, here’s the beginning, here’s the middle, here’s the end, you know, perfect, and if it isn’t there, then the ice cream doesn’t taste right, you know.
MB: Do you have a label for your work, if you were describing it to someone?
IK: I used to say it was experimental, multifaceted, but I don’t know what to say, and nobody seems interested in asking me that question, so I haven’t had to come up with an answer.
MB: Do editors give you any [labels]?
IK: Oh yeah, I get rejected again and again because [my work] doesn’t carry that golden thread.
MB: Do they say that?
IK: No most don’t say anything to me. The last one said I was a bold writer . . . I like to think of experimental work as reflecting how the mind works; and not all of us think in a straight line. I don’t even think in a circle, and poetry likes to circle and come back in on itself. I’m all over the place, I’ve learned how to try to carry on a conversation, but my mind goes in a million directions and maybe a lot of other people’s minds do the same thing only they don’t write that way, they like to focus on one subject . . . It likes to go from ice cream to swimming, you know, whatever, from high-heeled shoes to sandals. I can’t explain it, I just do it and it’s taken me years to accept my own writing . . . I take sometimes years to revise and to allow a certain voice to stay there, that’s the trick for me . . . I have sometimes revised something so that it’s perfect, a poem anybody would like, but it’s not really me.
MB: So when you revise to allow that certain voice, how do you do that, how are you cutting through?
IK: I allow myself to go from one place to another, and for many years I tried to connect it all. I was successful, but then I thought why I do I need to do that? I don’t have a great audience. I can write for myself, and so I allowed myself to do this. It’s kind of a contemporary [way to be] in that [today] we can’t stay on one subject too long. I’ve always been that way, that’s why I wasn’t a good learner, a daydreamer is what my mother would tell me I was, a daydreamer because my mind would wander, just space right out. In a painting that’s okay, you can do that, with a brush stroke, you can make abstract forms and flow, and be surreal. Non-objective is what I like more than objective abstraction in painting. Now how do you do that with writing? I have had people tell me that my poetry is painterly.
MB: So what do they mean by that do you think?
IK: I don’t know what people mean, it doesn’t matter any more. I’m happy if somebody likes the work, and somebody can relate to it . . . Maybe somebody out there needs to read it so they may do it; just like Gertrude Stein did for me, gave me permission. Maybe it gives permission to someone else.
MB: You wrote about repetition in your response regarding being experimental.
IK: I do repeat. I’m very repetitive. I like the grid [in painting]. It’s sanity; it’s a form of keeping things you know, and it’s not only that. I’ve been painting for a long time. In order to keep painting now—I’m not inspired anymore like I was when I was young and thought oh that rose is so beautiful let me photograph it, paint it—I have to set up things for myself, and the grid is one way to do this. It slows me down. It may take months to paint a large grid, and so that’s what I want to do, I want to keep painting, keep on working. I don’t know if you know the work of Agnes Martin; she did stripes, for years and years until she died, simple big stripes. She was from the Midwest, originally from Canada. One of her paintings is in the MFA [Museum of Fine Arts, Boston]. It’s hard to reproduce her work because it is so subtle, its colors are. It’s hard to get a book of any of her work. It’s just these simple stripes and they’re very spiritual.