Interview with Don Coles
This interview was conducted via e-mail between 24 September and 4 November, the interviewer Evan Jones was in Manchester, UK, Don Coles was in Toronto, Canada.
EJ: I want to begin by asking about time in your poems, specifically in ‘Someone Has Stayed in Stockholm’, which seems to me a speculative poem, describing in detail an alternate universe.
DC: I don’t think there’s a single poem (mine or others’) among those I know best and reread most often that doesn’t owe at least half of its core-appeal to time. Whatever else is at play will lead towards a last-line or last-stanza or simply a gathering cumulative awareness that all the images, all the words, all the faces and places that initially, when first met, may have seemed almost randomly offered, may have seemed to have lived out their brief stand-alone existence and then to have fallen off the page – that all these are at poem’s-end now returned, they’re rising up in my (and surely, I will then feel, every other reader’s) mind as richly and as deeply and, because they have returned out of what seemed to be lost time, even more intensely than they can ever have been felt to be before.
It’s a wonderful moment, or feeling, and one can be as grateful to whoever has put it before one’s eyes as one can be for anything.
Right now, speaking as one who has been identified, in reviews, as a poet who’s concerned with time, I may as well say that it’s something I know needs to be there in anything I’m at work on. It will always be there, whether I go looking for it or not, that’s obvious; but ‘looking for it’ is likely to be good idea.
The poem ‘Someone Has Stayed in Stockholm’, which as you have suggested could also be related to the idea of an ‘alternate universe’, immerses itself in a place which is other than its author’s usual habitat (although in this case it’s a place I did, for a few years, inhabit), an immersion which wouldn’t do much for anybody if it didn’t, however, come through with an easy, an uninsistent (as it hopes) but functioning net of detail. Detail such as, in this poem, the “kids” with their “stipendium-years in Paris”, a pattern which is a familiar one in Stockholm, as it is in other Scandinavian towns; the “bigtime tennis in Båstad”, a noticeable July event in those parts; Strandvägen, the indeed-elegant street with its facades and its mostly-white sailboats and yachts, all of them pointed towards the summer islands; these and more.
That’s part of it, of what I think makes the poem work. The other part is what I started with up at the top of the page: the felt presence of time. This gets to wherever it gets through its details, but now it’s the detailed admissions of memory, literature’s primal hoard, having to do, here, with its own (as it surely knows it must be, or it’s done for) cache of images, viz., roads-not-brought-into-headlights, milky-skinned redheads and glimpses on escalators, also unobserved seasons and “necessary” but unspoken sentences, all from the same shared-by-billions instinct but each appearance of it, here, as it intends, signalling in its newness, towards lost time.