Guffy Bergman is a poet, translator, and Books Editor at The Literary Review. His writing has appeared in Gravel, the museum of americana, Green Mountains Review, and [PANK]. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kristina Marie Darling: Tell me about your manuscript in progress. What would you like readers to know before they delve into the work itself?
Hayden Bergman: The manuscript turns around a few things — manual labor, the rolling plains of west-central Texas, and masculinity. More specifically, it revolves around how those things act as teachers, as well as the ways they interact with one another. I would also say that the manuscript is concerned with the culture of orality — the region (again, west-central Texas) isn’t one particularly steeped in poetry, but storytelling figures large in social life there. So the manuscript is in that way concerned with the speaker’s and character’s informal education in speaking — this education happens in barbershops, convenience stores, church, New Year’s Eve parties, and, of course, at work.
KMD: When reading your poetry, I find your fictional personae compelling. In a literary landscape filled with autobiographical writing, what can poets learn – and steal – from fiction writers?
HB: The fiction writers I know will probably scoff at my answer to this question, but I’ll answer nonetheless. It seems to me that poets can learn character development and dialogue from fiction writers. I mean to say that many times the characters in a poem seem to be more like monuments, or otherwise that they’ve been placed there simply as means for the poet to make a point about himself. I suppose fiction risks this as well, but I can say that I’ve noticed this in much poetry. With respect to dialogue, it just seems to me that it can add layers to a poem, and make it more tuned into one’s breath. All that is to say that poets can learn how to cram more people into poems.
KMD: On a separate note, I envy your skillset when it comes to revision. What advice do you have for writers who struggle to transform first drafts?
HB: I would say that there must be a knowledge of what the poem’s ‘argument’ is, to borrow a term from rhetoric — this takes much work and contemplation, and may not come after the first draft, or even the third or thirtieth. With enough work, though, it will come. Obviously, this will likely change or become more clear through rewriting, or after reflective writing on the poem itself.
I would also say that most writers will produce a first draft in which there is something that’s working splendidly — writers should take the time to determine what exactly that something is doing, and then work to let that part of the poem teach the rest of the poem what to say. Allowing the poem to teach itself is something I’ve learned through working and writing with poets that are much more perceptive and wise than I am.
KMD: I’m a longtime admirer of your work with the books section at The Literary Review. What has writing and curating literary criticism opened up within your creative practice as a poet?
HB: Thank you for saying that. I’m afraid your admiration is misplaced, since it’s really a joint effort between myself, our editor, our contributors, and a host of other folks at The Literary Review. That said, my time working in the books section has improved my perceptiveness as a reader, and it’s also exposed me to so many different ways of interpreting a work of literature. I guess I mean to say that, as my skills as a reader have improved, so has my writing. I suspect this is partly due to the fact that my ability to perceive lines of inquiry has increased.
I’ve also found that I frequently read books that I would probably never pick up on my own — for that I’m very thankful.
KMD: In addition to your achievements as a poet and editor, you are also a translator. What translation projects do you have in the works?
HB: I’ve been translating Follamantes by Carlos Salem for the past four years — I hope to have that finished very soon. The book is comprised of several sections, one of which is love poems in 140 characters (this was before Twitter increased its maximum character count). It’s been a delightful struggle to attempt to preserve both Salem’s humor and his intensity when translating from Spanish to English, all while keeping the character count the same, which was central to his project.
KMD: What’s next? What can readers look forward to?
HB: Well, there are several poems from my manuscript that are forthcoming in various journals. I would also say that they can look forward to seeing more stories, poems, and criticism from The Literary Review. We were a 2020 finalist for a Firecracker Award, and we’re all excited about what the future holds.
Thank you, Kristina, for taking the time to speak with me. Be well.