NABOKV-L post 0002539, Mon, 3 Nov 1997 08:44:20 -0800

NABOKV-L Interview with Tom Bolt, author of DARK ICE
A year or so ago, Brian Boyd called the attention of NABOKV-L subscribers
to a 1001-line poem, "DARK ICE," that had appeared in the avant-garde arts
magazine BOMB. Its author, Thomas Bolt, winner of the Yale Younger Poets
Award (and much else), fashioned the poem to reflect the structure,
themes, and devices of Nabokov's "Pale Fire." Nabokov appears as a ghostly
presence in the poem which, inter alia, comments on recent Russian
history, as well as the life of Bolt himself. Although the poem is very
much Bolt's own and is accessible to any good reader, the Nabokov
specialist will read (and re-read) it at a still higher level of

Bolt's poem incorporates a great many anagrams, typographical devices, and
annotations that require hypertext mark-up for effective display. For this
reason, DARK ICE is being presented first and is best read on the Nabokov
Web Site ZEMBLA run by Jeff Edmunds at the Penn State libraries.

http: //

For those without Web access, an ASCII version will appear on NABOKV-L in
two weeks. Toward the end of the month, NABOKV-L will have an interview
with author Thomas Bolt. Please send NABOKV-L your comments and questions
for Bolt.

Lastly, the Nabokov Society, NABOKV-L, and ZEMBLA would like to express
our thanks to Tom Bolt for his brilliant poem and for permitting us to
present it.

D. Barton Johnson, Editor of NABOKV-L


About the Author of DARK ICE

Thomas Bolt's first book of poems, *Out of the Woods*, was published in
1989 by Yale University Press. His poems have appeared in *The Paris
Review*, *BOMB*, and *Southwest Review* (where his long poem, "Wedgwood,"
won an award for the best poem the quarterly published in 1994).

His awards and fellowships include the Rome Prize for Literature of the
American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Yale Younger Poets Prize, The
Peter I. B. Lavin Younger Poet Award of the American Academy of Poets, an
Ingram Merrill Fellowship, and a 1997 Artist's Fellowship from the New
York Foundation for the Arts. Bolt's poems are included in the anthology
*Sixty Years of American Poetry* (Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1996). His
forthcoming publications include a short story, "A Cluster of Sunsets," in
the Autumn 1997 issue of *Southwest Review* and two poems in some distant
issue of *The Paris Review*.

*Dark Ice*, 1993-1997, a poem of 1,001 lines with notes and parodies of
notes, was first published in BOMB (without the notes) in the fall of
1993. Publication of the hypertext *Dark Ice* on Zembla and the ASCII
version on NABOKV-L mark the first publication of the work as a whole.


I notice that your strong sense of
imagery also extends to (typo-)
graphic matters.

The typography in the poem is
nothing compared to the novel
I'm working on--a visual book in
more ways than one, as I hope
you will someday see.

Is the "Nabokovian" *Dark Ice* a
departure from your earlier work?

It happened that my first reading
of Nabokov's novels, stories, and
poems roughly coincided with
the breakup of the Soviet Union,
my own courtship and marriage,
and my first visit to Europe
(including a research trip to the
Harz Mountains, in what had very
recently been East Germany). In
my previous published work,
those themes are of course
nowhere to be found. What is to
be found everywhere in my first
collection, *Out of the Woods*, is
a metaphorical amalgam in which
landscape is more than what is
physically described. The
collection ends with a 10-part
narrative poem not unlike
*Dark Ice* in certain respects.
But in the more recent work
disjunctures between the
"realism" of the descriptive
writing and its metaphorical
burden are stressed to make
the metaphor unavoidably

Do you have any recommendations on
how to read *Dark Ice*? The poem
presents some of the same problems
as *Pale Fire* in that regard. Do the
hypertext links really overcome the
text/notes discontinuity? I assume you
were not thinking in explicit terms of
"hypertext" when you wrote it?

The discontinuity is deliberate. I like
the idea of the Notes amplifying,
spinning, or even contradicting the
poem (and, for those who read notes
first, vice versa). I didn't choose the
form only because *Pale Fire* has
notes, but because as a poet and a
writer of prose, I'm interested in
(and amused by) the differences
between the forms and continue to
wonder how they can be brought
together in a single work.
Straightforward self-commentary
doesn't interest me, but the
hybridization of forms, the comical
and artistic possibilities of
digression and elaboration do. I
also like the idea of a poem
creating its own context.

In the beginning of *Dark Ice* the
narrator is reading *Pale Fire* and
taking long winter walks. He "reads"
the landscape and, in particular,
bits of print (or things that might
be taken for print) through the
icy glaze, especially that of the
frozen pond--a semi-transparent
barrier between two worlds:
life & death in Shade's cosmos and
the U.S. and Russia in the emerging
*Dark Ice*. These symbols (and
their context) "interact" with bits of
*Pale Fire* and others of VN's works
and the present experiences of the
narrator to yield *Dark Ice*. Is this
a plausible reading?

I like the idea of "reading the
landscape"--also what the reader
is doing---but you could also put
it another way. You could say
(but don't have to) that the "walk
through the landscape" is someone
thinking--with the aid of glimpses
of various books, news reports,
histories, novels--about the various
themes that make up the poem:
most obviously, the apparent end
of the long rivalry between Russia
(or the Soviet Union) and the USA.
This ambulatory thinker is
handicapped by an average
ignorance of the subject at hand,
but finds a number of oddly
compelling connections between
the two countries--and the spark-gap
that briefly joins the two polarized
spheres is provided by the spectral
presence of a writer who lived
through that history, wrote great
works first in Russian and in English,
began as a Russian and became an
American. In a way, the poem uses
VN as a metaphor. As a metaphor
and also as a medium (in the
levitating-table sense of the word)--
or as a touchstone and an imagined,
imaginary guide. (Of course, to any
of his readers, Nabokov fulfills
these real but somewhat spectral
functions. And anyone reading those
novel becomes aware of "the
fantastic recurrence of certain
For me, that Nabokov became
an American writer provides a
much needed escape-hatch in a
tradition that can be, for all of its
breadth, limited, literal, and
cornball. Of course Nabokov is a
somewhat freakish presence in
the Russian tradition too, but
there is Gogol, and there are
certain poets, with a family

One of the poem's particular charms
for Nabokovians is its ingenious use
of anagrams, many spun out of the
words Pale Fire. These are so
pervasive that I found myself
wondering whether you had perhaps
machine-generated a list based on
the words Pale Fire and Vladimir

There are several such programs--
Karma Manager (an anagram of
Anagram Maker) for one--but I
find after long experience with
anagrams that the ones made by
hand are the best. For instance I
show my narrator's imperfect
perception of a cue by using
imperfect (incomplete, with
intervening letters, or otherwise
fading out) anagrams; these can't
be produced easily by a program,
and neither can anagrams using
initials that sound like words.

How central were the anagrams
to your composition of the poem?
The whole poem is, in a sense, an
arrangement of certain letters.
(This, of course, is ultimately
true of any writing, but here
explicit.) Also, it is what the
narrator is doing in "reading"
fragments in the ice.

Most of the anagrams in *Dark Ice*
are "manifestations" of the poem's
ghostly tourguide, or pointers to
events or features of the landscape
that he wants the narrator to see.
For me one interesting aspect of
any author's conscious use of
anagrams is that any code, by its
very nature, presupposes
conscious authorial intention--and
the reader or decipherer, by the
act of deciphering admits the
existence of that intention.
Since more than one anagram is
unlikely to be coincidental, an
anagram is not only a signal
that something more than the
obvious may be going on in a
given work, but can prove that
the author is conscious of it. If
there is still such a thing as the
"intentional fallacy," this would
seem to be an end run around
it. This, along with the secondary
aspect of anagrams as an
author's graffito "tag," are what
got me interested in them.

The poem raises many intriguing
questions. Among them a variant
of the one that confronted you
at the poem's first, noteless,
publication. The original readers
read an incomplete text--one that
omitted much of the personal and
historical background. Have you
had enough reaction from "casual"
readers of the noteless version to
get a glimpse of how they
understood the piece?
I ask this in part because both
Brian Boyd and I pondered
whether the massive Nabokovian
subtext might somehow shape
(for better or worse) reading and
interpretation. Is the poem
enhanced or degraded for the
"expert" reader? Although
enjoying the poem greatly, I
confess that after 3-4 readings
I still found myself sinking
through its surface in pursuit
of Nabokovian echoes.

(Some, no doubt, so faint as to
be indistinguishable from a
madman's fancy.) You (plural)
are obviously best-equipped
to judge where the expert
reader stands. I think non-
Nabokovian readers, and
even readers who neglect the
notes, will get the gist of
*Dark Ice*--the text if not
the subtext(s). For me, an
ideal work of art might have as
many levels as its investigator
might care to explore (without
imposing his or her own
floor plans). To be perfectly
honest, embarking on *Dark
Ice* made me queasy for a
couple of reasons: I dislike the
"homage" as being usually a
second-rate art form or worse;
I didn't want to be seen as
groping for another writer's
frac-tails--and missing. But a
strong desire to defy my
own queasiness, and a quick look
at my bookshelf, made me
determined to go ahead. The
tradition is ancient, though
Dante did it best. My other
thought about whether one
creative writer can build a
ramshackle structure against
another's palace--I'm typing
this in Rome, where that sort
of thing is not unusual--was:
Why should literary critics
have all the fun?

John Shade's poem foregrounds his
own life and the death of his
daughter with the "otherworld"
theme as the embracing context.
*Dark Ice* is much more public
and "political" in its themes, with
the Russian "revolution" of August
1991 as its key event. As you say,
your initial work on the poem
coincided with that event. But at
least in the poem's fictive universe,
a third theme is present, albeit in
much more muted form. The
first two are Nabokov (*Pale
Fire*) and the Russian
(-American) "revolutions." The
third, muted, theme, present
mostly in the "Notes," is that of
meeting Sophie and her father
Roland Forrester, to whom you
have dedicated *Dark Ice*. There
seems to be a coming-together
of themes in the "kin(d)/kindred"
material at the conclusion.

Whatever History is doing, we
have to live. Part of the poem
is an attempt to find not only
linkages or the ghosts of
linkages between disparate
histories on a grand scale,
but to remember why we
care about what happens on
such a scale--because it
either thwarts or enables
people who (despite outward
appearances) are like

You mention you are finishing
your first novel. Is there
anything you care to say about
it? I, for one, look forward to

Thank you. It's funny. I'm
tempted to say that it's a
powerful, picaresque novel,
filled with foul language--
But it's a book about travel
where no one goes anywhere,
a love story about two lovers
who never meet and are not
in love, and a comedy that
ends in disaster.