Name: Bela Koe-Krompecher
Occupation: Label owner, author
Current publication: Bela Koe-Krompecher's Love, Death and Photosynthesis is out via Don Giovanni Records. The book, a remarkable work in between categories - it's not fiction nor really non-fiction; it's not strictly speaking pure art, but not journalism either - deals with his life and the passing of friends, the scene around his label and the wider implications, the pull of addiction and the satisfaction of survival.
Recommendations: I am going to recommend two newer pieces, I mentioned the author Melanie Finn earlier, her new book The Hare is pretty incredible---I highly recommend going down a Melanie rabbit-hole (see what I did there?). There are a few new records I’ve been listening to quite a bit, Damon Locks and a lot of female songwriters: Laura Stevenson, Lucy Dacus, Rosali …. so many, I can’t just list one!
If you enjoyed this interview with Bela Koe-Krompecher, visit his online blog for a personal look into his world.
When did you start writing- and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about literature and writing that drew you to it?
I started writing in my early twenties although most of it I didn’t share, I kept most of it to myself. Mostly short stories and some terribly pathetic poetry, but I did write for a few zines and magazines during the 90s, mostly about music.
When I was in high school and my early twenties, I read a lot of what so many people of that age read: Vonnegut, Richard Brautigan, and classics (Mark Twain, Victor Hugo.) I read a lot of mystery/police procedures after I quit drinking, Henning Mankell, Lawrence Block—which really provided me the idea that I didn’t have to always be reading heavy stuff.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
This is a good question. Since I really come from a DIY background, I have been able to really discover my own voice. I like to capture emotions maybe more than anything else, I am a self-taught writer---some of my writing lends itself to my ADHD mind and, perhaps if I had more of a education in writing this might have been stymied.
I mentioned Richard Brautigan earlier, it was only after an old girlfriend read one of my short stories (I must have been 24) and she said my writing reminded her of him that I started to read him, and of course, I fell deeply in love with his writing.
The punk/DIY ethos has heavily influenced my life, I believe in expression in any format no matter the training---there is a bravery in it, but it is also very freeing.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I am somewhat sure I know my shortcomings, that I am not the most skilled person at many things. But I am a big feeler which means that I try to process things going on in my head and around me.
I wish I had more time in my life to work on my creativity (I work several jobs), but also that my profession as a social worker informs who I am—that is as a person trying to help people as well as trying not to do any harm. I tend to think this is always on my mind when I am writing, maybe.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
When I was younger, I wrote a lot but I didn’t have confidence and I was a heavy drinker---so I was scared to take risks, “what if people found me out” that sort of thing.
It wasn’t until I quit drinking and started writing again that I realized I didn’t have to pigeonhole myself, and that I am a better writer. This also means that I’m older and have more responsibilities which eat into my focus and time.
How do you see the relationship between style, form, plot and storytelling – and how would you rate their importance for you, respectively?
Honestly, these are things I don’t think of too often, except the storytelling. My style is pretty stream-of-conscious, and I have yet to introduce my fiction into the world, so hopefully people will respond positively to it.
For me, I like to read about characters although I admire storytellers. I have been reading Melanie Finn this year and I’m stunned at her ability to create suspenseful stories that are lined with the struggles of women and class. I don’t think I could ever write like that, when I read certain writers I feel tiny---in awe, Hanif Abdurraquib is like this and since he lives in Columbus I have the opportunity to see him read a lot (every time I hear him read I end up crying), but I think what I am trying to say that anytime I can feel an emotion from a writer (or myself) that is success.
Observation and research are often quoted as important elements of the writing process. Can you tell us a bit about your perspective on them?
It depends on what the writing is about.
For my book Love, Death and Photosynthesis there was really no research and I have a disclaimer that the book is culled from my memories and some things are probably wrong, but the point of the book isn’t about facts but about emotions.
So, I am more concerned about observation and processing than any other element. I hope this makes sense!?
How do you see the relationship between conscious planning and tapping into the subconscious, between improvisation and composition? When dealing with the end of a story, for example, do you tend to minutely map it out or follow the logic of the narrative as it unfolds itself?
I can’t map anything out in my daily life let alone in a story or book! I have so much respect for writers that can tell a suspenseful or even longer story with lots of twists, but I tend to just write—what I realize is that most of it is my unconscious operating.
At times I may be working on something for a month, and it could have very disparate parts but when I read it, they all tie together---so maybe I do plan things unintentionally?
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do writing and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I actually work a full-time job as a social worker and teach part time at The Ohio State University, I have to steal time to write.
When I have time to write it is usually on the weekend, and a great weekend is if I can get several hours in to write. I wish I could say I write every day but I don’t. I just don’t have the bandwidth to do it. I take notes in my phone for ideas and tend to use them when I can spend time with the words in my brain.
I take a lot of walks, music is always playing in my house, my car, my headphones---there is no creativity without music.
Can you talk about a breakthrough publication in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I wrote for a number of magazines, zines and have a few small pieces in anthologies and even a larger book of photographs. But Love, Death & Photosynthesis is my first book so this is my breakthrough! I started writing it in 2009 but without the intention of writing a book, it just happened.
My main motivation to write is that I enjoy it, it helps me make sense of the world, and I like how I feel before, during and after I do it.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Having a calm mind is imperative, not feeling rushed of having things crowd out what is going on in my brain. Ideally, when I am doing the practices that help me achieve that state of calm (meditation, journaling, exercise, being intentional with my time) then the creativity can blossom.
Sometimes I just have to make myself work at it regardless of if I have an inspired moment---that the window to write it at a certain moment and I have to take advantage of it.
Building in alone time is important, actually scheduling time to be creative is helpful.
Words can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for literature and poetry as a tool for healing?
I was just having this conversation with someone who I care deeply about and is a writer.
I am a social worker and part of what our ethos is that we do no harm. I have tried to be mindful that (since I write a lot of essays on my life and experiences) that I have the potential to harm people even if it is unintentional but I also want to reveal my truth so people can relate to what I have been feeling/experienced. This can be delicate and there is so much anger in the world, we are drawn to it that it can be difficult to engage in the anger or hurt without spreading it.
Firstly, writers need to be honest about their intention to write and to share, and then they need to weigh the pros and cons of what they are putting out there. Secondly, we need to be vulnerable in what we are sharing---that is, put it out there but do it wisely as well as in a place of healing or change.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
This is something I have never really considered, mostly because my writing is from a very personal place---I mostly write about my life although I do write some fiction. Since much of my life comes from being involved in music, it is so much more pronounced in that arena—although there is more of an effort to acknowledge where inspiration and ideas come from than in the past.
It is important to think of time and how people have evolved, at one time after President Theodore Roosevelt it was common for white Americans to claim Native-American ancestry, this was done as a form of homage but it also produced millions of white American’s claiming that they had Native American ancestry when they didn’t and what we now know in hindsight that this was damaging (and insane!) and helped hide the atrocities that white Americans did to the native people of this land—the intention was to claim the heroism but not the destruction.
Literature works with sense impressions in a different way than the other arts. How do you use them in your writing? From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I write a lot about music, not really bands or composers but how music makes us feel and captures us and our memories. Food does the same thing, but I don’t generally write about it. Good writing will capture multiple senses, in the same way that a good writer can describe absurdity that can move the reader to both tears and laughter in the same passage.
It is also different for what I am writing about, if I am writing about my Hungarian grandmother, it will always be about food---maybe this is what everybody writes about when they are writing about grandmothers? When I write about my friends there is music usually involved, also the visual descriptions---which are essential when describing emotions and dialogue.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
They are intertwined, art is the fabric that runs through my life---music lines my days and nights, I wish I had more time to read---but the centrepiece of my life involves connection with others—in my role as a social worker, an educator, a parent, a partner---and art is the one vehicle that can to this in a much more easier and deeper meaning that even talking.
What can literature or poetry express about life and death which other forms of art may not?
Capture the emotions in distinct ways. Music and visual arts are more interpretational, much of what writers try to do is to really aim at capturing an emotion or to unravel (maybe even create) and emotional riddle.
One can read about death and both feel inspired, hopeful and sad at the same time---within the same paragraphs or stanzas.