The Ofi Press Magazine

International Poetry and Literature from Mexico City

Interview: Eva Salzman

Eva Salzman, now based in London, grew up in Brooklyn and on Long Island. Her grandmother was a child vaudeville actress; her mother is an environmentalist and her father a composer, for whom she’s written a libretto which has been performed across Europe. Frank McCourt was her high school English teacher. She received her BA from Bennington College and MFA from Columbia University having had the honour of studying with Joseph Brodsky, Derek Walcott, C.K. Williams, Edmund White, Patricia Goedicke, Carolyn Kizer, Elizabeth Hardwick. Josef Skvorecky and Jorie Graham.

Her books, The English Earthquake (Bloodaxe), Bargain with the Watchman (Oxford University Press), One Two II (Wrecking Ball) and Double Crossing: New & Selected Poems (Bloodaxe) all received Poetry Book Society Recommendations/Commendations. Honours include Arts Council, Society of Authors and Cholmondeley Awards. Her writing has been broadcast on BBC radio, and published in the New Yorker, Kenyon Review, Independent, Guardian, Observer, The Herald (Glasgow), Poetry Review, TLS, London Magazine, and the anthologies: Forward Book of Poetry 2004/1998; The Firebox ed. Sean O’Brien; Hand in Hand ed. Carol Ann Duffy; Sixty Women Poets ed. Linda France; Last Words eds. Don Paterson et al; and New Writing (British Council/Picador/Vintage) eds. John Fowles, A.L. Kennedy, Penelope Lively & George Szirtes.

She’s been Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Ruskin College, Oxford and at Warwick University, where she also held a West Midlands Fellowship and taught the Poetry MA. She was a contributing editor of the Encarta Book of Quotations (Bloomsbury) and co-editor of The (Printer’s) Devil magazine.  US work includes Fellow/Visiting Writer at Wesleyan Writers Conference, and teaching/readings at Connecticut College, Brandeis, Southern New Hampshire University, and at the Y/Makor Project (NYC), Nuyorican Café, and Walt Whitman Association. Recent work includes devising the Open University’s first Start Writing Poetry course, acting as European Delegate for PEN Writers-in-Exile (US) and trying, like the rest of the planet, to write a novel.

Previous to hanging out with the literati, she toyed around inconclusively in the areas of music, film, law, environmentalism, politics (gender and otherwise), prison reform and current affairs, while pursuing a dance career. This led to teaching dance, which itself led to a job as Fitness Director at an Orthodox Jewish Diet Centre in Brooklyn, which in turn led to other work: out-of-print book searcher, antique market wheeler-and-dealer, waitressing, assorted research for bad or indifferent glossy magazines and cleaning of rich ladies’ houses, all of which subjects continue to figure in her creative work.


Interview by Jack Little and published in Issue 32 of The Ofi Press.

Note: Bio borrowed from:


1. As a writer, what is your key marker for “success”?


One might say publication but as with addicts the high gets briefer. The poet’s default mode (this one’s anyway) is one of perpetual dissatisfaction which may seem an unfortunate way to live one’s life. Yet it’s a spur too. The truism – one is a writer only so long as one is writing – is true. Buried deep in a mountain of doubt is a self-belief as strong as steel, and also flimsy and fragile as a Chinese lantern, luminous at times. The feeling one haves when finishing a piece of writing one knows to be good is as much success as that proven by publication.


2. Do you think the internet has made a useful change in how poetry is read and published?


That’s a tough question... especially coming from an online journal. Issues of copyright remain unaddressed. The internet seems to have fostered what begins to seem like a growing industry of poet plagiarists. Who’d a’thunk it? I strongly object to how the internet and blogs de-professionalise the writing profession, fostering an egalitarianism one is not meant to challenge which erodes respect towards the professional. Increasingly editors expect not to pay for work they commission… even when they themselves are paid. Of course the internet gives one wider exposure. I’m delighted that the Ofi is publishing a Spanish translation of my work! Also on the plus side these days it’s so much easier to buy out-of-print books and those published in other countries.


3. As well as poetry, what other creative endeavors have you undertaken in your life?


My grandmother was a child vaudeville actress who performed alongside her parents and my father is a composer, so it’s artiness up-the-wazoo for my family. I studied dance and choreography for many years - contemporary or modern, ballet, ballroom, jazz, you name it - and still regularly do salsa and swing dancing. I play the piano and have even done some acting though never once had any illusions about my future in that latter field. I write in other genres too: lyrics, opera/music-theater libretti, non-fiction and fiction. The To-Do list includes a return to drawing, painting, singing… but then The Road to Hell is paved with the proverbial good intentions.


4. As an American who has lived in London for some time, has England been good to you?


Early editorial responses to my work sounded like they all came from the same guy: they didn’t “get” or “hear” my American rhythms. I didn’t get that. American writer friends spoke of receiving similar enough responses for me to have long ago decided this was all total nonsense. The English seem to have unresolved issues with the Americans. That may work both ways. Family therapy may be in order. My early reading was mainly the English novel of the 18th and 19th century. It was all English literature, all part of the same tradition. I’d like to talk to those editors now and ask them to explain what they meant.


5. Following on from this question, to what extent is nationality an important marker for your identity?


Nationality has ended up defining me and my work. Or rather the lack of one. Or rather the confusion around straddling identities and cultures: between and betwixt the USA and UK. There is a long tradition of writers similarly stranded between these two places. Dual nationality instead of making a person two things actually makes one neither. The two cancel each other out. One plus one doesn’t equal two, instead it equals nada. Being nowhere is no bad thing in many ways. Indeed there is also a tradition of writers in exile, those preoccupied by the topic and writing about it, feeling in exile even though they’re not.


6. To what extent do you agree that translation is an act of creation in itself? Have you translated the work of others in the past?


It must be surely. It’s a two part process: firstly the literal translation and then the translation back into poetry. In my innocence I used to think you had to know the language to do translations. Accuracy is not necessarily the point but rather the essence of the poem. For its sake one might sacrifice any number of apparently essential elements, such as form and rhyme. One can’t hope to capture a language’s idiosyncrasies and idioms, only find parallel or analogous ones.


7. What is your favourite word in the English language? Why?


Er, um, I’ll get back to you on that. Too many to choose from.


8. What does the future hold for Eva Salzman?


The medium-term future sucks the big one, as they say, and there is no end in sight. I look forward to the time when I can once again take my future into my hands. It’s my future after all. It’s supposed to be anyway.