The book, In Which We See Our Selves, features reflections on life, creativity, and the passage of time and is written entirely in Ghazals – An Arabic poetry style.
Ben Thorp sat down with Torgersen to talk about his new book.
Ben: Will you talk to me a little bit about Ghazals and what they are?
Eric: They are a form that was taught for centuries in the Arabic speaking countries, in the countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, India. It was introduced to american readers and poets by someone called Agha Shahid Ali, who was a poet who came from Kashmir, the disputed area between India and Pakistan. He published a book called ‘Ravishing Disunities: Real Ghazals in English. He was the one who taught us about the formal details, all this complicated rhyming and refrain, and the common practice that the poet signs the Ghazal, signs the poem at the end.
Ben: Actually that was going to be my next question. What was it like putting yourself into these poems? It makes them feel much more conversational. It feels almost like you are talking to yourself.
Eric: Sometimes I’m talking to myself but again because you’ve got to think of something you can’t always be talking to yourself. Sometimes it’s other voices speaking to me and sometimes they are saying nasty things to me, and other times not, or just commenting to me and giving me advice. When I called the book ‘In Which We See Our Selves’ all those different selves partly come from all those different ways that I sign my name at the end of them.
Ben: In terms of content there seems to be a lot of reflection on your life and your work. Some of it as you were saying before seems a little harsh. Talk about that right now.
Eric: Challenging myself is part of the job and it’s nice to have these other voices available that can ask me these questions even if they come at the end of the poem and I don’t really answer them. I think self confrontation is one of the poets jobs.
Ben: Would you like read some of these poems for us?
Eric: I would love to. Uh, Come Back. Many of these poems are about aging and mortality for some reason, possibly because I’m 73. And when you get to that age you spend a lot of time remembering, a lot of memories come back. That’s where that one starts:
Prodigal thoughts long gone from your head come back,
paths you turned from, fearing where they led come back.
You cling to present loves as old desires,
like children crying to be fed come back.
Those with whom you bargained, plotted, wrestled,
did or did not go to bed come back.
Those who never knew how much they mattered,
those you might have helped but hurt instead come back.
The falsest, truest, kindest, cruelest, maddest
words you ever wrote or said come back.
All your brilliantly improvised explosive
devices in the road ahead come back.
The year of many small cuts, the years of learning
to hide the places where they bled come back.
Faceless figures hover in the mist
tinged with every shade of dread come back.
Don’t look, Eric look don’t listen listen
It’s the tireless calling of the dead: come back.
Ben: Thank you
Eric: Thank you.