I Won’t Leave the Onion

An Interview with Maria Seisenbacher

/ by Wolfgang Kühn

Maria Seisenbacher is an Austrian Versopolis poet who has been in the program since 2017. She has published three poetry books so far. But she is not only a writer, but also a literary promoter active in various fields.


When looking at your impressive biography and fields of activity, and having in mind that you are also a mother to two small kids, I wonder from where you drag your energy?

From the passion to do what is important to me and to use my skills in these fields, in order to improve them and to challenge myself, again and again. And this exactly returns the energy to carry on.


Talking about energy – there are also things that might rather kill energy than give it, like living with a person suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Is your book Ruhig sitzen mit festen Schuhen some kind of self-healing, the drive to do something, although there is nothing to be done?

I think people heal themselves again and again in the course of their lives, only the methods of self-healing differ. This book is another poetic attempt to fill apparently speechless rooms with language, and to give this language a body by means of concentrated compositions. Personally, I tried to deduct the horror from the disease, but I’m still not sure if I succeeded.


Your partner, Hermann Niklas, is a poet himself. Together you published Konfrontationen in 2009, corresponding to each other’s poems. How hard and honest a critic can one’s partner be?

I’m always very honest and provoking with my reviews, as I like to be treated the same way. Hermann Niklas and I got to know each other through our work, writing, and therefore we have reviewed each other’s texts already, even before having started a private relationship. This reviewing has grown on a very confidential and respectful level. The problem of close critics is the entanglement of the private sphere and writing – one often interprets too much and loses the farsightedness towards each other.


You’ve only recently been to Struga Festival in Macedonia, having a lot of readings in the course of six days, meeting a lot of new and interesting people. Great experience, but of course also exhausting and distracting from writing. How many poetry festivals per year can a poet stand?

This makes me laugh! One festival per year is definitely enough for me, although I wouldn’t refuse any invitation. I always need a thick skin at these festivals, as one is vulnerable and one’s poetry is vulnerable as well, especially because the poems are presented in translations. It is also strange that one involuntarily represents “one’s” country. But as you mentioned, it is a great experience and, at every festival, I meet one person, who – coming from afar – becomes part of my life.


Your poetry is very concentrated, there is no abundance of words, not a single word is too many. What is your writing approach?

Concentration, rhythm, essence. Many of my poems are longer in the beginning. During the writing process, I’m cancelling again and again to get to the core of the poem, of the thought, of the conclusion, similar to the principle of the onion. Lately, I have been writing also longer pieces, but I have to get used to this and look where it leads my poems. I won’t leave the onion, maybe something will be added.


Together with Elisabeth Laister you founded the organization “Leicht lesen – Texte besser verstehen.” What is it about and what is the aim of this special initiative?


We work with “Plain Language,” which is primarily the language for people with learning difficulties (cognitive disorders), but increasingly is also used for people with German as a second language, with writing and reading shortcomings. We “translate” texts from standard language into plain language, enabling more people to understand the information. Our starting point is the self-determination of men. Only when I understand information, I can be part of society, and will I be able to live self-determined. As we know, language is assessing and categorizing, and is often used as a disqualifying instrument. Plain language discovers this fact and offers an alternative, without replacing standard language. As a writer and a social pedagogue, we combine two fields of interests and passions.


Considering all the things you’re doing apart from poetry – when do you really find time to write a poem? And what are your favorite places?

Very helpful and productive are Artist-in-Residence stays – being away from everyday life, second jobs and family. Only when being completely isolated and concentrated, may I find a perfect room for writing. It is much easier to find some space for research and revision. I often ignore that, even in this phase, I already start to write – in my thoughts. Preferably, I stay in the countryside when writing, especially before writing, with only little contact with people – last year, I have often been to Styria. Writing also takes part in urban areas, influenced by rural experiences and perceptions, by nature spectacles, etc. But urban spaces themselves don’t attract me at the moment.


You’ve been to residencies in Starí Smokovec (Slovakia) and Ptuj (Slovenia). How much influence has the surrounding to your writing? Are there examples of poems, which could have been different, when written at home in Vienna?

Especially the landscape around Starí Smokovec influenced my writing very much. Our body moves differently in compliance with the landscape, i.e. one’s own rhythm changes and by this also the rhythm of writing – this I discovered in Slovakia. In the beginning, Ptuj was very vexing, because of the flat landscape, but looking back, it has also left some marks on my poetry.


You are organizing events, publishing others in magazines, i.e. doing the work of cultural manager besides being a poet yourself. You know both sides very well, thus the question – how important is it for poets to “self-promote” themselves, or is it possible to succeed without doing so?

As an Austrian poet with an Austrian publisher, there is no other way than self-marketing. This doesn’t mean that the publishing houses don’t do a good job, but the Austrian book market and the public don’t care about poetry. This mainly is done by literature magazines. As a poet, you have to be present, and you shouldn’t write prose against your will, although it might be more profitable.


What are your future plans?

In spring 2018, I will have my new book of poetry being published at Edition Atelier. Then there will be readings and other events again. In April, I will be in Italy as an Artist-in-Residence. Another book of poetry will hopefully be released in 2019. And the next one is already “under progress.”

Wolfgang Kühn

born in 1965 in Baden / Wien, living in Zöbing / Langenlois. He is an Austrian writer (four Austrian dialect books so far) and musician – www.küve.com / www.zurwachauerin.at (five CDs so far) – as well as an editor of anthologies. Since 1992 he is the chief-editor of Austrian literature magazine DUM – Das Ultimative Magazin – www.dum.at