Clara Burghelea in conversation with featured poet Edvin Subašić

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Edvin Subašić was born and raised in Bosnia-Herzegovina., he immigrated to the US in 1997 as a war refugee at the age of 21 and learned English. He is the recipient of 2018 Redivider Beacon Street Prize in Fiction and The Florida Review 2019 Meek Award. His work has appeared in McSweeney’s, Redivider, The Florida Review: Aquifer, B O D Y Literature in Prague, Out-of-Stock, and The Cabin’s “Writers in the Attic” anthologies. Forthcoming publications in Vestal Review and Miletus International Literature Magazine. Edvin teaches English as a Second Language at Boise State University, where he is also a student in the MFA program.

Clara Burghelea:
You were born and raised in Bosnia-Herzegovina and English is your second language, as it is mine. Do you still write in your native language? And what language do you dream in?

Edvin Subašić:
I stopped writing in my native language a while ago. It was because I needed to focus more on my English, to wrestle with the language beast. By then I knew I was going to stay in the US, so my work had to be in English. However, I still have a desire to write in my native language again. It might be that I can’t do without migration anymore even if it’s in an abstract way. And I do dream in both languages. It’s random and it has to do with the context of my dream.

Clara Burghelea:
Do you see yourself as a writer or as a poet?

Edvin Subašić:
That’s an ongoing question in my case. I’ve always wanted to be both although I have spent a lot more time on my prose in recent years. But then I see poetry sneaking in when I write prose–especially when I write in the style of magical realism—and I can’t help it.  It also happens the other way around, when I try to write poetry. I recognize my stories deeply seeded in my poems. I have always admired writers such as Janet Frame, who wrote poetry too and whose stories were long, beautiful poems. 

Clara Burghelea:
What do you do when you get creative block? 

Edvin Subašić:
I read more or go on a bike ride or a walk. I write bad prose and fail at writing a poem, but I keep going back. When I talk to a close friend who is a poet or a writer, it helps. Most often it’s the combination of all those things that get me out of my writerly funk. 

Clara Burghelea:
You won The Florida Review’s Meek Award 2019 for fiction and the Beacon Street Prize for fiction. Do these awards bring you closer the wider literary community?

Edvin Subašić:
I believe they do. Every time I get my work recognized, I realize that there are people out there who understand and appreciate what I am trying to do and what my process is all about. It keeps me focused on the bigger picture, on what really matters. It makes me hopeful that I am not just doing this silly thing that has no merit. It brings me closer to people who are going through similar experiences. I feel less lonely.

Clara Burghelea:
Have you written work that you really loved and got no response to?  Or have you had the opposite experience of writing work that you thought was not your best, but that people responded to? 

Edvin Subašić:
Oh, yes! There is some of my work that I’d put so much into and I know it’s good, but it got no response. Perhaps its cultural context and style might require more attention or trust. But then I write something that is on a whim, and I know it’s not my best work, and people love it for some reason. It’s maybe because they can relate to it. But I think every form of art is like that. Once it’s out there, it’s on its own. The artist must let go and keep working.

Clara Burghelea:
Many writers maintain strict schedules. Do you have a writing routine or do you simply grab the moment? 

Edvin Subašić:
I do both. As a full-time parent and a full-time teacher, my schedule gets messy, and I use whatever time I get to write or edit. But most of the time I try to write for 1-2 hours after work and then the same amount of reading in the evening. Little by little, I make a lot of progress that way.

Clara Burghelea:
You are currently studying fiction in an MFA program. Are such programs important? Can an emerging poet/ writer find their path without such a degree? 

Edvin Subašić:
I think it depends on some other factors. MFA programs can help a lot, especially to understand more about writing, or to open new doors in literature and to see what others are doing. It also helps to understand how people perceive your work, especially if you’re not from a majority culture. One can learn both what they want and what they don’t want to do with their work. However, I firmly believe that every poet/writer can find their own path because we are not and we should never be the same. This belief helps me understand my process better. I push myself to carve my own path without relying too much on the MFA program. It’s important for the art that there are many ways. Diversity is key to creativity.

Clara Burghelea:
What is your relationship with Social Media? Do you use it productively or do you avoid it?

Edvin Subašić:
I try to balance it. I know that Social Media is an accessible way to communicate and it can help a lot. It’s nice to see what the rest of the world is doing, what’s happening in literature and art, and what people who are close to you and your work are doing. It also can be just a lot of noise. Sometimes I feel like Twitter is a bottomless pit that opens the door to hell. I try to keep it under control and use it as a valuable tool.

Clara Burghelea:
How do you balance your works with being a full-time parent?

Edvin Subašić:
That can be tricky. For example, if I spend too much time writing or doing work for my MFA classes after my day job, I know I am missing on my daughter who is seven now and is growing fast. It’s becoming more and more challenging, especially if I want to focus on longer projects such as a novel. I think I am going to take a break from my MFA program this year just so I can spend more time with my daughter and to have time to write more. Every now and then I wish I could go on without writing, but I think it’s too late for me.

Clara Burghelea:
What does it mean to be a poet/writer in 2020? 

Edvin Subašić:
I think it’s a little complicated, as always, especially because we live in the time when human rights are being disregarded again and we are running out of time to make the world a better place. People are anxious and need support. It’s important to be even more active and through poems and stories strengthen the bonds with the rest of the world. We must support others who are trying very hard, like ourselves. We need to continue sending the message that we are here and that we still care.

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