Interviews
July 4, 2019 posted by Unity Wellington

Steven Toussaint

Steven Toussaint

Forget keto and paleo, Steven Toussaint is currently on a strict diet of one or two “shewyngs” a week along with Divine Comedy supplying general sustenance. Read on to find out more about his reading habits and please join us for the launch of his new collection of poetry, Lay Studies (Victoria University Press) to be launched by fellow poet, John Dennison. 6-7:30pm Tuesday 9th July 2019. All welcome.


ABOUT THE BOOK

In Lay Studies, Steven Toussaint conducts an impressive range of lyric inventions, pitching his poems to that precarious interval between love and rage. Beneath their formal dexterity and variety, these études sustain a continuous meditation on the concords and dissonances of worshipful life in an age dominated by spectacle, violence, and environmental devastation. With great skill and compassion, he depicts scenes of domestic life in his adopted home of New Zealand, a transient year of religious and artistic soul-searching in the United Kingdom, and a growing sense of dislocation from his native United States in the Trump era. These are poems of profound contemplative inwardness, conjuring and conversing with a vast tradition of literature, scholarship, and art. Lay Studies is a powerful collection and a welcome music.

These are elegant poems. They have verve, they have wit and no little learning. They reveal a mind like a knife. An ear of the same quality. All of which = what’s needed in a calamitous time that calls itself the Information Age. —John Taggart

Steven Toussaint writes with a formidable blend of intellectual toughness and technical command. These finely worked poems range over a wide territory, local and global, religious, social (a devastatingly intelligent piece, ‘Yes or No’, evoking the world of online pseudo-discourse), and offer many memorable images and phrases (a favourite is ‘The furious pleasure / of a man being listened to’). This is an excellent collection of demanding and rewarding poetry.—Rowan Williams

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steven Toussaint was born in Chicago in 1986. In 2011, he immigrated to New Zealand and now lives in Auckland. He has studied poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the International Institute of Modern Letters, and philosophical theology at the University of Cambridge. He is the author of a previous collection, The Bellfounder (2015), and a chapbook, Fiddlehead (2014).


WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THE BOOK(S)?

A lot of recently published poetry. I just finished Nikki-Lee Birdsey’s Night as Day and am still basking in its Sebaldian brilliance. Geoffrey Hill’s posthumous The Book of Baruch by the Gnostic Justin has been in my bag for months. I finish it and start all over again. It might be his greatest work – satire consummated in elegy. For the past few months I have been slowly working my way through the long text of Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love (one or two “shewyngs” a week). And after a few false starts, I am midway through Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady.

WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE WRITERS AND WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THEM?

Ezra Pound’s work has become part of the furniture of my mind in recent years, though it would be weird to use the word ‘favourite’ to describe him. All of the moral contradictions of the 20th century are embodied in this one person, who also happens to be (in my opinion) the greatest Anglophone poet of the 20th century. I adore the early imagist lyrics, Mauberley and Homage to Sextus Propertius, the translations, and many of the essays. Portions of The Cantos are pinnacles of modernist lyricism while vast passages are nearly illegible. I would say that I love the work as a whole, as the irreducible expression of a tragic life.

WHAT BOOKS ARE ON YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE?

M.R. James’s Collected Ghost Stories and The Book of Common Prayer.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK-TO-FILM ADAPTATION?

The Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men.

WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU RE-READ THE MOST AND WHY?

The Divine Comedy is like a petrol station for me; whenever my imaginal tank is empty I return to fill up. So too, more recently, The Gospels.

 WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY CHARACTER?

Uriah Heep. Edward Casaubon. Dr. Charles Kinbote. Delicious villains all.

WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN MEANING TO READ BUT STILL HAVEN’T GOTTEN AROUND TO?

James Joyce’s Ulysses. What am I waiting for?

WHICH THREE WRITERS WOULD YOU HAVE OVER FOR DINNER?

Katie Ford, Shane McCrae, and Toby Martinez de las Rivas. Three very different poets, but each wrote a book I loved last year. I would like to meet them.

WHAT WOULD YOU COOK THEM?

I’d barbecue a joint of meat with a number of fresh salads. And lots of good wine.

HOW ARE YOUR BOOKS SHELVED AND ORGANISED AT HOME?

By subject and alphabetical. A few years ago, I attempted to organise my poetry collection by year of the author’s birth. But there are too many secret birthdays in poetry.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY QUOTE?

These lines of Pound, from a late unfinished fragment of The Cantos:

Let the Gods forgive what I have made

Let those I love try to forgive

what I have made.


author photo credit: Jenna Todd

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