Episode 68: Interview with Klara Du Plessis

recorded on October 29, 2020 via Zoom

Klara du Plessis is a poet, critic, and literary curator. Her debut collection of multilingual long poems, Ekke, won the 2019 Pat Lowther Memorial Award, was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and garnered much critical acclaim. She lives in Montreal and Cape Town.

In her second collection of poetry, Hell Light Flesh, Klara du Plessis returns with a Dantesque trilogy on family, punishment, and the ferocity and brilliance of creation. Hell Light Flesh drops the reader into a narrative claustrophobically entwined in unquestioned systemic violence where art and art criticism act as a consistent glimmer of hope. Over and over, the poem lends itself to allegory, and yields to layers of interpretation. Hell Light Flesh is mandatory reading for devotees of the long poem and fans of du Plessis’ thrilling brand of essayistic poetry alike.

We discuss the book’s design, the history of the title, the monolingualism of the book, the long poem form, narrative methods, writing and thinking, editing the manuscript, the origins of the book. We speak of the choice of naming the father “Maria,” and the gendered nature of the book, what it means to be masculine. Klara talks about how the book evolved, its structure.

She’s working on a manuscript with Khashayar Mohammadi. We talk about art, nature, body, language and place as the common elements in the books. Klara wonders about the valorization of what the author has to say about their work. We talk about the images Klara made for Hell Light Flesh, her work with photographs, the art in her life. Klara talks about her love of the South African landscape.

We talk about the violence of the book and the acceptance of corporal punishment in the community that Klara grew up in. She discusses the concept of “abuse” as a judgement,vs the idea of violence as a fact and the normalization of violence through ritual and how that influences the creation of patriarchy.

Klara talks about why her main character is a boy, the gendered nature of corporal punishment. She talks about the Kid, the daughter in the family. Amanda talks about the different layers of the book, the shifting voices.

We talk about deep curation and how Klara applied it to readings of the book with others. We discuss a Resonance Cafe event that took place on FB Live in June. We talk about the human moments of the virtual readings.

We talk about Klara’s first appearance on the show in 2017 and how the pandemic has changed the podcast.

front cover design: Erica Smith

Spoken Web Podcast: Deep Curation – Experimenting with the Poetry Reading as Practice

Meander, Spiral Explode – Jane Alison

Wax Lyrical, Anstruther Press

Khashayar Mohammadi

Klara is reading at The Lawn Chair Soiree – November 19, 2020, 7pm

Hell Light Flesh is a chilling and powerful critique of the normalization and acceptance of violence through the eyes of a young man on the cusp of adulthood in a family where both parents are artists, the mother, a sculptor whose canvases are always cracked, the father, a confident creator of the eternal work. It is an achingly beautiful series of long poems that engage with art, nature and the body, the self, violence, toxic masculinity, paternalism and the patriarchy. The book is both thoughtful and visceral. For me, I couldn’t help thinking of male artists who’ve been seen as geniuses and how they are empowered and enabled to be inappropriate and awful to those around them. As someone who has experienced childhood trauma due to abuse by a father, the work was an uncomfortable but necessary read. I recognized myself in those pages.

Thanks to Klara Du Plessis for being on the show, to Charles for processing, to Jennifer Pederson for the theme song, and to you for listening and sharing the episode. Stay tuned for the next episode with Sacha Archer, Pearl Pirie and Dennis Cooley in November, Frances Boyle, and a special episode on the poetic elements of music in December featuring amazing musician Subhraj Singh.