Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Highlights from the Sabrina Orah Mark Interview

I recently had the opportunity to talk poet Sabrina Orah Mark (who is reading at Prairie Lights tonight) about her newest collection of poems, Tsim Tsum. Here are some highlights from the interview:

Sabrina Orah Mark
Author of The Babies and
Tsim Tsum.
Fellowship recipent from: the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Glenn Schaeffer Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, the University of Georgia.
Her poems have appeared in: American Letters and Commentary, American Poet, Black Clock, The Canary, Conduit, Denver Quarterly, Forklift, Ohio, Gulf Coast, The Indiana Review, Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century, and Best American Poetry 2007

Could you talk a little about the creative process behind Tsim Tsum? Why did you choose to continue with the two characters first introduced in The Babies?
Because I am a poet, my fascination with Tsim Tsum led me to wonder if I could enact this wondrous phase in Jewish mysticism poetically. Tsim Tsum is a Kabbalistic claim that a being cannot become, or come into existence, unless the creator of that being departs from that being. When I began Tsim Tsum, I had just finished my first book The Babies. One section of The Babies, entitled The Walter B. Interviews, introduce Walter B. and Beatrice, two figures who are hatched at the center of ruin. When the book was done I began to miss Walter B. and Beatrice. I wanted them to return to me, but because they already were goners (so to speak) I needed to make for them a field, a field contingent on being gone, on galut (exile), and meet them there.

In a Diagram review of The Babies, Shara Lessley related your poems to the “innermost psychological and emotional states.” Are these also conveyed in Tsim Tsum? What are some of the visceral feelings and sensations captured by this collection of poems?

I think any good poem should dwell in the “innermost.” I hope the poems in Tsim Tsum do. Because Walter B. and Beatrice live in a kind of galut (or exile), because they are immigrants in their native land, they are often marked by a bewilderment that in turn marks their visceral composition. Walter B.’s and Beatrice’s names echo BE, as in Beatrice’s imperative: Be Trice, as in W.B.’s imperative: Double You Be, as in to be, as in becoming, but they are not entirely yet. Ontologically they are to be out of the question. This dilemma asks that they hold a magnifying glass over their hearts, and when they do – even if it’s only to check to see if there is a heart where a heart should be – their emotional landscapes swell and go in and out of focus.
Your writing has been referred to by some as prose poems and flash fiction by others. How would you describe your style to someone not familiar with your work?

Prose poems, and I will explain why. Because Walter B. and Beatrice are figures harvested at the center of exile and disorientation, questions of existence and being are crucial. And so they need a home marked by homelessness, where everything is in exile, and where exile is where everything belongs, where emanation and imitation (or retreat and propagation) share the same breath...The architecture of the prose poem is the closest form I’ve found that resembles a home marked by all these things... The prose poem is an abyss, a shell, a vessel that captures a howl that echoes ghosts (those figures who circle exile and return). Here, like in the first moments of a Tsim Tsum, emanation and limitation share the same breath. And it s this space where I felt Walter B. and Beatrice could begin to speak.

Tsim Tsum, as I understand it, is the idea that beings cannot exist unless the creator departs from his creation. An "absence of God and presence of the void" concept. Would that have any relevance to writers and their writings? In a sense, you helped create the world of Walter B and Beatrice, how then have you departed from your creations?

I am very intrigued... [and] need to think about this for a long time. In the meantime, I will give you a short reply. There is, I think, for every poet a moment, whether brief or long lasting, when the world the poet creates begins to create for the poet a world unlike the world she assumes she lives inside. This switch blurs the boundary between the creator and the created thing. Who came first, the chicken poet or her poetry eggs? I swear there were times when I was deep in the book that I believed Beatrice and Walter B. had made me, and not the other way around. Perhaps this sounds lunatic, but this fact remains: their existence has altered my composition.

How has the Iowa Writers' Workshop influenced you as a writer?

The Iowa Writers’ Workshop was an absolute gift... [Before the Workshop,] I didn’t know how to measure necessity. The first poem I handed in was about a bridge made of dresses. I remember Mark Levine telling me that if I do not show how a bridge made of dresses could stand up, at the very least, then why does the bridge need to be a bridge at all. It took me about a year to figure out what he meant by that, but what I now understand by this is that he was asking me why the bridge was not a father made of dresses, or a cashew made of dresses – for that matter. What difference did it make? He taught me that it is necessary to make the things I make live on their own. [James] Galvin, like Levine, taught me that the poet must be responsible for the things the poet builds. There is a way, I finally understood, to make the make- believe believe in itself so that others can believe in it too. Even dreams need someone to plead for them their case.

-- Alyssa Marchetti

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