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Interview: Dani Yourukova talks about Transposium

Dani Yourukova completed a MA at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington. Dani's work has been published in takahē, Stasis, The Spinoff, Turbine | Kapohau and the Poetry New Zealand Yearbook. Dani talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about Transposium.

Transposium is my first collection of poetry. It’s funny and sparkly and energetic and debauched. It’s a bit interested in being clever, and a lot interested in having a good time.

It’s also an adaptation of Plato’s Symposium, which is an Ancient Greek philosophical text where the premise is that a bunch of guy friends get together with Socrates to drink, party, have awkward queer drama and argue about the nature of erotic love. The characters are all analogues of real life Athenian intellectuals who would have been Plato’s contemporaries, so I kind of like to think of Symposium as ancient, highbrow, real-person fanfiction. Like Dante’s Inferno with less Catholicism.

Socratic dialogues (the philosophy tactic of exploring ideas by making characters have conversations with Socrates) were an established philosophical form, even at the time when Plato was writing this circa 380 BCE, and it’s a form which remained popular well into the 2010’s with transgender Youtubers critiquing fascism on the internet.

Transposium is a bit like all of that, but sluttier.

What inspired you to write this collection of poetry?

Unfortunately, I have this desire to make ancient philosophy as fun for everyone else as it is for me. Thinking about the Socratic dialogue of Symposium as a “form”, led to a thinking about poetic form and the strategies we use to hold a thought or argue a point, and the ways in which poetry disrupts those expectations. I wanted to adapt that liveliness, that sense of finding answers by slipping between identities, by using drama and narrative and humour and lyricism as a way of articulating the vast diversity of experience that we have with love in its various forms.

I’m also thrilled and fascinated by the act of dialogue, and the way that ambiguities and contradictions can exist in that space. For me, gender and sexuality is a dialogue between me and the world, the culture, the community I inhabit. I think this is how interactivity, games and play ended up as such a central, formal element of the book. Like, what I really want to do is reach through the page to the reader, like “This is a dialogue! We are all participating! I love you and I care about what you think.”

What was your routine or process when writing these poems?

I made a carefully thought-out, thoroughly outlined plan for a narrative poetry collection about childhood trauma. Then, when that gave me turbo-depression, I started procrastinating by writing a second book. That second book is Transposium. At least half of the collection was composed during weird insomniac episodes where I’d lie awake brooding on questions like, “would a modern Socrates say ‘pussy’?” and drawing elaborate multiple-choice diagrams on post-it notes at 4am. Another important part of my process was “quitting my job”, which was extremely enjoyable, even if I did have to become a squalid little pauper living off scholarship money and soup for six months.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

Ooooh! I think I’d include “Human Behaviour” by Björk, “Moderation” by Florence and the Machine, and maybe “The Cult of Dionysus” by The Orion Experience? (oh no, I will have to make a playlist).

What did you enjoy the most about writing these poems?

Transposium is an unrelenting, joyful torrent of my Special Interests, processed and refined into poems during the editing process, so it’s fundamentally something that I wrote for fun! I loved the research, and I really enjoyed letting loose, experimenting, and finding how neatly everything fell into a coherent collection.

Do you have a favourite poem from the collection? What is it and why is it your favourite?

Maybe the final sequence, “Alcibiades Chooses Their Own Adventure”? I had to write ten interlocking poems simultaneously for it to work, so from a technical perspective it was a fun challenge. The setting of the sequence is also loosely based on a party I went to where I was really embarrassing in front of a woman I had a crush on, so there’s also the personal pleasure of reclaiming my own cringe.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

First I had a bit of a panic, which is my standard response to unfamiliar situations. Oh! And I’m planning to throw the book a birthday party with my flatmates on release day. (Transposium is a Libra, for those who celebrate)

What is your favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

I think my favourite book so far this year is Alejandro Zambra’s Multiple Choice, which, if you like my book, I think you will love. It’s written in the form of a specific, Argentinian standarised test, and I love it for its absurdity, playfulness and poignancy while engaging with political subject matter. I was going to call it a poetry collection, but I’m not actually sure how to categorise it now that I've come to it. I’ve been reading less poetry than usual this year, because I’ve been re-focusing all of my efforts into reading books about wizards. (sidenote: my favourite book I’ve read this year about wizards is Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell)

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I’m rotating several ideas for another book, but I’m also teaching, working at an archive, experimenting with fiction and essays, reading wizard books, co-writing with my lovely partner, and DMing a tabletop RPG about occultism in an alternate-universe 1920.

Auckland University Press


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