A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with V.B. Borjen

Q1: When did you start writing and who influenced you the most?

V.B.: The curious thing is that I began writing before I was an avid reader. I wrote my first poems when I was about eleven. I had the good luck of having a very supportive teacher of Bosnian in the primary school, Ms. Murisa Jukan, who encouraged me by making me read these early poems aloud, to the whole class. They were ridiculous poems, no doubt, but their value was in the act of writing and my being acknowledged as “a poet” that early on. She would often end her lessons by saying, “OK, now Beganović will read us one of his poems.” (She never called us by the first name.) And out would come this big pale green binder that belonged to my late dad and in which I wrote those little things. My poor classmates had to endure all that.

Q2: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

V.B.: When I was about fifteen, so second grade of gymnasium. I  remember I was writing this fantasy novel and I have thought of myself as a writer ever since. I believe many people somehow fear this label. Toni Morrison famously said she thought of herself as a writer only after her third book, Song of Solomon, but it’s a mystery why. Perhaps people are afraid of the responsibility it carries, as writers are most often a sort of conscience of their time, or should be at any rate. I do not see a problem with thinking of yourself as a writer if you are prone to introspection and recording the goings-on of people and places around you, in words. Most of our lives are narratives of one kind or another. Our minds work that way.

Q3: Who has helped you most with writing and career?

V.B.: It would be hard to name any one person who helped my writing or publishing, there have been so many over the years and each helped in their own way. Some by sheer enthusiasm over my work, others by publishing the first pieces. Perhaps I could go with the firsts? Dr Dijana Hadžizukić was one of the judges in the first poetry contest I submitted to and which my manuscript won. (Mak Dizdar Award, 2012). She wrote a kind introduction to the poems. Then the novelist and poet Senka Marić, who published my first short stories in Bosnian at the online magazine Strane. My first poem in English was published by the essayist and EIC Cynthia-Marie Marmo O’Brien in the inaugural issue of Hypothetical back in 2013, and the novelist and editor Sakina B. Fakhri published my first short stories in English in AZURE: A Journal of Literary Thought. My friendship with the brilliant US poet Heathen (Heather Derr) has been a great inspiration for years now.

Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels influenced your work?

V.B.: I grew up in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the ‘90s war and its difficult aftermath in the early ‘00s. Back then, that was simply the only reality I knew and I never imagined what kind of writerly repository those early experiences would prove to be. Perhaps I have made more use of those early years in my writings in Bosnian. My work in English has been a different kind of outlet, a place to experiment and broaden, much in the tradition of the modernist authors I’ve admired, while the writing in Bosnian has most often been focused on the particulars of childhood and the language the grown-ups around me used and continue to use. However, I see these two coming closer together lately. I don’t think I compartmentalise them so much any more.

Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively to you?

V.B.: Was it Márquez who said when someone asked him which of his works he liked best, “Always the latest”? We tend to be particularly excited about whatever we have just finished. On second thoughts, I could say my novel The Flux, the first draft of which I finished in 2014, has probably proved the most instrumental, not because of the quality of writing but because it taught me some valuable lessons, such as how to construct a longer work, how to persevere and finish it, as well as how to remain a poet, even in prose ― as Baudelaire advised.

Q6: What are your favorite activities to relax?

V.B.: Reading, naturally. Keeping a diary. A spot of painting. Films, series, music. Good walks. Good coffee and food. Conversations with friends. A great deal of travelling.

Q7: What is a favorite line/ stanza/lyric from your writing?

V.B.: It is not often the case that I like my earlier work, but there is a poem I am still happy with. It’s called “The Polish Triptych” and it was first published in Chicago by The Ethetic Apostle. It ends with the following lines:

You weave yourself closer
as I spear the crests of the
waves with my looks;

Far off in the distance
slow ships pass,
mammoths in the steppe.
But here, before us
the sea unloads gifts,
they thud and fan out

             we leap,
caught unreadied
into life, unreadied,

(c)V.B. Borjen

Q8:What kind of music inspires you the most? What is a song or songs that always come back to you as an inspiration?

V.B.: How about a little list? “Pass This On” by The Knife, “Sinnerman” performed by Nina Simone, “Dreams” by The Cranberries”, “Adiyo Kerida” perfomed by Flory Jagoda, “O Meu Portugal” performed by Amália Rodrigues, “Moya Malenkaya” ― Marina Tsvetaeva’s lines from “Lilly of the Valley”  performed by Polina Agureeva…

Q9: Do you have any recent or upcoming books, music, events, etc that you would like to promote?

My poem “The Kites” has just been published in Ice Floe Press’ anthology Pandemic Love and Other Affinities, a great assembly of authors meditating on the recent global events which marked all our lives. Should anyone be interested to follow up, I have a flesh piece “Evaristo” forthcoming in BOMB, a short prose poem “Rovers” in Moist Poetry, and a longer lyric poem “The Grapevine” coming in Issue 15 of Grist: A Journal of the Literary Arts.

In other news, this summer I have been selected as one of 200 fellows for Margaret Atwood’s Practical Utopias online learning experience over on Disco. The course starts soon and I truly look forward to working with people from different backgrounds and from all around the world on common social and especially environmental issues. You can find out about the many ways to join by visiting the course website.


Twitter: https://twitter.com/Borjen

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/samoniklo/?hl=en

Link Tree (with previous publications in English): https://linktr.ee/V.B.Borjen

Pandemic Love and Other Affinities: https://icefloepress.net/pandemic-love-and-other-affinities-an-ice-floe-press-anthology/

Practical Utopias: https://studio.disco.co/learn-live-with-margaret-atwood-course


V. B. Borjen (he/they) is a Yugoslav-born writer and visual artist based in the Czech Republic. His first poetry collection in Bosnian won the 2012 Mak Dizdar Award, while his second poetry manuscript won the 2021 Darma Books Best Manuscript Contest in Belgrade and is pending publication. Borjen’s work in English and his visual art have been featured in EcoTheo Review, Folio, Rattle, The Maine Review, AZURE, Ice Floe Press, Parentheses and elsewhere. He has a further flash fiction piece forthcoming in BOMB, and poems in Grist Journal and Moist Poetry. He serves as Guest Editor of Palette and Frontier poetry magazines.

Photo: Self-portrait, September 2022

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Mark Robinson

with Mark Robinson:

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?

Mark: I started writing, like most writers, young. I remember really getting into the ‘creative’ writing time in 3rd grade actually. I do not remember who I was reading then, but I do remember reading a lot of Steven King around 12, 13, 14 yrs old—not the horror stuff, the really great stories that were turned into movies like Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption. Probably unusual for a poet, yes? My first poetic influences though…not surprisingly Mary Oliver as I was an undergrad in Iowa City in the 90s and her work was starting to be very well known and taught in universities more, and has a way of speaking to people. Li-Young Lee and Raymond Carver were pretty huge in those years just after my undergrad as well.

Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?

Mark: It is hard for me to say who directly influences me today. I read as much poetry as I can and anything you put into your head can and maybe should find its way onto the page, into the work. Most of what I read now is contemporary so I have read all the big new books out and love the work from Diane Seuss, Ada Limon, Maggie Smith but there are so many great poets right now. I really love Keetje Kuipers and Jane Huffman. Older influences are still going to be there– Emily Dickinson, Whitman to an extent. Reading Letters to A Young poet was moving, as well as exploring Rilke’s work after. And I have always love Wallace Stevens too— so while no one can really imitate him, his sound is something to try to learn at least. It can’t hurt.

Q3: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Mark: Eh….8th grade when my Language Arts teacher made me read my poem about Yankee Stadium to the class about 7 times. I had a solid understanding of the poetic devices we studied. Then, day one in an undergrad poetry class and Mary Szybist opens by not introducing herself or welcoming the class but by reciting Idea of Order at Key West. And Mary has a rather marvelous voice. I do not know if I definitely wanted to be a writer at any of those moments—I remember both distinctly though.

Q4: Who has helped you most with writing?

Mark: Jessica Mehta, Kathy Goodkin, Marissa Bell Toffoli and Paula Cisewski. Each of them, in their way, let me know I was worthy…my work is good. That has been the most important “instruction” I have ever received. The other stuff, the prompts and the workshops, suggestions, etc. are very good and interesting to me, but the acknowledgment of the work is much more important. Being a writer is a very fragile thing.

Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing & did any travels away from there influence your work?

Mark: I grew up in Central Iowa, and this is my home again now. I think travel and moving around in general has been good for me. I have lived in many cities—Des Moines, Iowa City, Phoenix, Seattle, Denver, Twin Cities, Kansas City—and that ability to be move in and out of that kind of change is something. However, I remind myself pretty regularly about Emily Dickinson’s life and that she accomplished so much without really going anywhere but outside.

Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?

Mark: My most meaningful work is definitely my chapbook, Just Last Days. This is a project that I was able to put all together, so there is that, and I have a really beautiful book to show for it. And in addition I think those poems represented a real breakthrough for me in terms of voice. I think I started to recognize my voice in those poems, my first published in journals and my first collection.

Just Last Days: Robinson, Mark: 9781625493385: Amazon.com: Books

Q7: What are your favorite activities to relax?

Mark: My first favorite is to read. Boring, right? I am a big sports fan too though. In the fall I will definitely watch football on weekends, which is both relaxing and stressful (in a relaxing way). I like travelling very much too. I tend to want to be outside more when I am travelling—especially love the ocean, and mountains/different landscapes are interesting… and I feel like I am truly away from everyday life so that is relaxing.

Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?

Mark: —“She sang beyond the genius of the sea”; first line of Wallace Stevens’ Idea of Order at Key West.

Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?

Mark: I am really enjoying my work as reader for a couple of great journals—Frontier Poetry and Mud Season Review. I’d love to grow these experiences into something more in the writing community. I have a good number of unpublished poems that I had hoped by now would be more together and in book-length manuscript. The progress has been slower than I want but that is my next project—a new book. I have some title ideas, so the hard part is done, right?

Book link– Just Last Days: Robinson, Mark: 9781625493385: Amazon.com: Books

Twitter– @MarkRobPoet