An interview, according to the OED, is most commonly a face-to-face meeting for the purpose of formal conference. The word comes from Latin (inter, between, among, mutually + videre, to see, understand) through French (entre-voir). Early English usage, though similar to the contemporary, also carried with it an inflection that has been partially lost: an interview was a “mutual looking,” a “quick glimpse,” or—more abstractly—a partial insight. To have been interviewed was to have been glimpsed among other people and things.
In the sixth book of Paradise Lost, as day breaks on the second day of the War in Heaven, the angels of God view Satan’s troops as they gather together in a conspicuous knot. The angels had been victorious the day before, and while their leader Zophiel cautions them to remain “aware” (546) of their foe’s power, the predominant feeling is one of surprise and relief. The forces of evil have not scattered, as expected, and won’t have to be chased down. So the armies collect themselves; the fighting is about to commence; and then, briefly, there is a pause.
This moment is one of the two instances where Milton uses the word “interview” in the poem: “At interview both stood / A while” (6.555-56). It appears again in Book 11, in Adam’s vision of the future, when he witnesses a marriage ceremony, and where the rites seem at first to be a “happy interview, and fair event / Of love and youth not lost” (11.593-94). In this second instance, it seems clear that the “happy interview” is an interview not to be trusted. All is not as it appears. The tents that Adam saw, we are told, belong to the family of Cain, and are in fact “the tents / Of wickedness” (11.607-08).
In the first example there is also deception afoot. Satan’s forces have created a war machine, a device of “devilish Enginrie, impal’d / On every side with shaddowing Squadrons Deep, / To hide the fraud” (6.555). The attempt of the devils to hide the Engine is what the good angels are seeing when they stand “At interview.” They catch only a partial glimpse of the Engine itself. The results of this interview are disastrous: the good angels come close to losing.
The Miltonic interview might at first seem somewhat removed from, say, a press interview, or (dare she say it), a job interview. In some senses, however, it is also exactly the same. Both are opportunities to watch someone disguise what they wish to keep hidden—and that, frequently, is evil. And if, as for Blake, a “true Poet” is one who is “of the Devil’s party without knowing it,” then one who interviews a poet must be prepared to move among devils to spot them.
In that spirit, then, the Thirsty blog is proud to present The Devil's Engine: a series of interviews with Biblioasis authors. In celebration of National Poetry Month, the first four installments will focus on verse, but other genres and forms will follow. Altogether, the focus of these interviews will be what our writing reveals, what it conceals, and how much of either it ought to do.
Check back over the next few weeks for thoughts by Marsha Pomerantz, David Hickey, Joshua Trotter, Salvatore Ala, Zach Wells, Robyn Sarah, Goran Simic, Amanda Jernigan, and more.