B. Z. Niditch is from Brookline, Massachusetts and also writes fiction, teaches, and is the founder and Artistic Director of The Original Theater in Boston. His more recent books include The Book of Maxims from Lummox Press in 2001 and Boston Fall and Others from Aurorean Press in 2008. Mr. Niditch’s collection of poems, Portraits, published by Propaganda Press, is a fantastic array of poems that focus on individualists, artists, musicians, and philosophers. The poems themselves are short but the words are rich with witty, remarkable descriptions. As a result, I could not resist asking Leah Angstman of Alternating Current for a way to contact him and she was kind enough to oblige. Since then Mr. Niditch and I have corresponded through letters. Mr. B.Z. Niditch was kind enough to answer my questions about his chapbook and the interview follows below:
1. Thanks for taking some time to answer my questions, I see that you have published several collections in your lifetime such as Milton; The Lot of the Poet, Poetica, and many more. When did you first fall in love with Poetry and take up writing on your own?
The first poetry I remember falling in love with was that of Dylan Thomas. At twelve-years-of-age, I was browsing in a Boston bookstore when a blue volume of verse by the Welsh poet caught my eye. I read some of it, brought it home, read some more, and was hooked. Though I had been concentrating for years on music, particularly the violin, my life took another direction after falling in love with the beautifully written notes of poetry.
2. What inspired you to create a collection of poems that creates portraits out of words as the title indicates?
For a long time, I’ve been intrigued by the connection between art and poetry. Thematically, PORTRAITS is most concerned with images, so I decided to write and collect an imagist, minimalist group of poems. These poems focus on real people, personalities who I believe have changed the way we experience reality by confronting our lives and our time through their art.
3. Your collection features a wide variety of people including great writers, philosophers, musicians, and people whose names I hate to admit I’m not familiar with but would still like to learn about. Who do all of these people mean to you and what about them inspired you to create a portrait out of words for them in particular?
What inspired me were the individuals themselves, artists who express themselves in a singular concept ional way that sets them apart from their peers. It’s my recognizing that they possess a knowledge that can be very different from others. This knowledge may be found in how these individuals express their views on topics I find especially important: exile; suffering; persecution; revolutionary and challenging ideas in language, music and art.
4. I want to ask you about your poem titled “Alain Veinstein” who is a French poet. I will post the poem below for the readers and how did you decide which words to use to create a poetic portrait of Veinstein?
A rabbi exiled
in dark caves
The particular words and freshness of language suddenly emerged from me as I thought about the work of Alan Veinstein. My poetry in PORTRAITS emerges almost subconsciously as I respond to issues and ideas as I confront them. Often there are ones I have dealt with consistently in my literary career, such as that of the outsider prophetically reflecting on their own survival as they struggle to resist oppression.
5. I love your poem about philosopher and activist, Simone Weil. Could you tell us a little more about her for the sake of our readers and why she inspired you to create a portrait of her as follows?
A saint whitewashed
in troubled handcuffs
an ache of loving wounds
For me, Simone Weil is the long-suffering outsider, a brilliant woman who was something of a self-exiled soul. She could be alternately considered or classified as a mystic, a Gnostic, an agnostic, Jewish, Christian, a free thinker, a revolutionary, a rebel or a saint. Her primary cause was social justice. She believed that through her personal sacrifice for the oppressed she could redeem her soul and society.
6. Which poem, if not already mentioned, is your favorite and why?
from skeptical inkwells
draw along the shore
paint the undivided sea.
The poem “Yves Bonnefoy” is my personal favorite. He’s generally considered to be France’s greatest post-World War II poet and art critic. He was an individual who was fascinated by color, form, light, and lyricism. His works run across centuries and countries without borders.
7. The poetic portraits you created rarely exceed a dozen lines, is there any particular reason for the relatively short length?
I want my fans and friends to be readers who get to know PORTRAITS in a minimalist sense of time restraints, with a flash of but who will also return to PORTRAITS as in a painting with a flash of startling directness that tears you apart and sears the reader like a ball of fire, never forgetting the ashes which always stay with you.
8. When not writing poetry, what other things do you enjoy doing and do any of them have any influence on your writing?
Playing violin and taking notes for my poetry made me aim for euphony, that is sound, as well as a visual poetry of human language. For me, the greatest poetry is musical, from the oral tradition of the ancient bards, to that of the modernists and surrealists like myself in our world of written words.
Thank you, Mr. Niditch, for responding to my curiosity, it has been a pleasure. For other readers out there who may want to obtain a copy, you can find it at Propaganda Press Catalog for $6.00 and please note that not only do poets get royalties from their collections but you will also receive a free issue from the archives. Please support poets and the small press and thanks to all of you for reading.