We talk to Alina Rios – whose work appeared in issue 38 of Neon – about travel, the “you” in poetry, and Diana Wynne Jones.
I notice that there is a “you” in each of your poems in issue 38. The “you”, of course, refers to someone different each time, but it’s interesting to note that (with a little imagination) one could construct a coherent narrative from one poem to the next. I wonder if this was intentional at all? How clearly do you see your characters when writing? Do you ever have a specific person in mind?
This is interesting. Until I read your question, I hadn’t even noticed I was doing this. In fact, there’s a lot of “you” in all my work – poems and short stories. I am in constant conversation, it turns out, with this shifting other. Sometimes it is a specific person. Sometimes it is a combination of people, as is the case in “Calling”. In “Crow’s Feast”, the “you” is visually blurry, but emotionally very real. In issue 38, every “you” is a different character. That being said, if you did construct a narrative from the four poems, it would not be too far from my own reality. Am I okay with that? I have to be.
What was the inspiration for “Totems”? I get the sense that the poem is saying something about the creative process in general. Do you agree?
It is definitely about the creative process, but in a very specific sense. It is about the loneliness that comes when one’s loved one is so preoccupied with their creative process and art, that the person who is always near is forgotten.
I was intrigued to see on your website that you attended a conference dedicated to the work of Diana Wynne Jones in 2009. What was that like? What is your relationship to her books?
I was introduced to Diana’s writing much later in life than most people (who discover her during their teen years) by a co-worker, and I was immediately drawn into her layered worlds. Until I read her books, my only exposure to fantasy was The Master And Margarita (which I consider fantasy) and Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. The underpinnings of both are so complex that I never saw a way through for myself as a writer. But the related worlds in Diana’s Chrestomanci series encouraged exploration – I found myself travelling those worlds in my imagination, and discovering new ones. I soon realized that her ideas had nested so deep in my soul that I couldn’t possibly extricate them.
I came to the conference hoping to meet her, but she was too sick with cancer to make an appearance. Bristol, where the conference was held, had been Diana’s home for a long time, and it appears in quite a few of her books, so I especially enjoyed visiting. Also, being in the company of people who knew so much about her work and cared about it deeply was comforting.
I cried when she passed away, as if I’d known her personally. Diana taught me that fantasy can be real, smart, funny, and as helpful in dealing with real-life circumstances as any self-help book. Sometimes, I think, I write her into my stories just to visit with her.
Travel and living in different countries seem to be prominent features of your biography. How much do you feel your location bleeds over into your writing? Do different poems written at different times belong in different places?
Location is essential to my work. The place I’m in – travelling abroad, taking a walk in my neighbourhood, wasting ink in a local coffee shop, or in the void induced by air travel – draws memories and emotions out of me. Sometimes they are not in any obvious way related to the place, and you’d never know that the idea or image arose in such a location.
For example, last time I was in London, I was wandering Hyde Park in January. It was blustery and sunny, but I was dressed warmly, and the cold pinked my cheeks and made my heart beat deliciously faster. In this state, I discovered Diana Princess Of Wales’s memorial fountain. I’m ashamed to admit, I didn’t even know it was there. The place was nearly deserted and the sun reflecting off the running waters made it look like a goddess’s lost jewel. As I watched the waters rush up the gentle slope on one side of the oval and run down the other, there it was, in my heart, a clue to the novel I’d been trying to write for years.
When (I will say “when” because I will finish this beast) you read the novel, you wouldn’t know where or how this clue is crucial, but it is shaping the whole story. So London, Hyde Park, and Diana’s fountain are shaping the whole novel but will never actually be mentioned. Though now I’m thinking, maybe it should make a guest appearance, just because.
How can readers find out more about you and keep up with your work?
Alina Rios grew up in St Petersburg, Russia, and now lives in Seattle, Washington. In 2013, she was shortlisted for the Gulliver Travel Grant. Her poetry has appeared in Rust & Moth and is forthcoming in Star*Line and Camroc Press Review. Her fiction is forthcoming in Beorh Quarterly. She edits technical documentation for Tableau. To learn more or say hello, visit www.alinarios.com.