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A Community Writing Itself is published by Dalkey Achive Press

 

 


Image:Judith Rosenthal

Sarah Rosenthal is the author of Lizard (Chax, forthcoming 2015) and Manhatten (Spuyten Duyvil, 2009) as well as several chapbooks: Estelle Meaning Star (above/ground, 2014), disperse (Dusie, 2014), The Animal (in collaboration with artist Amy Fung-yi Lee, Dusie, 2011), How I Wrote This Story (Margin to Margin, 2001), sitings (a+bend, 2000), and not-chicago (Melodeon, 1998). Her poetry has appeared in journals such as Eleven Eleven, Sidebrow, Zen MonsterOtoliths, eccolinguistics, textsound, and Little Red Leaves, and is anthologized in Kindergarde: Avant-garde Poems, Plays, and Stories for Children (Black Radish, 2013), Building is a Process / Light is an Element: essays and excursions for Myung Mi Kim (P-Queue, 2008), Bay Poetics (Faux, 2006), The Other Side of the Postcard (City Lights, 2004), and hinge (Crack, 2002). Her essays and interviews have appeared in journals such as Jacket, Denver Quarterly, Rain Taxi, New American Writing, and How2, as well as the Academy of American Poets website, poets.org. She is the recipient of the Leo Litwak Fiction Award, a Creative Capacity Innovation Grant, a San Francisco Education Fund Grant, and grant-supported writing residencies at Vermont Studio Center, Soul Mountain, and Ragdale. She is a Starcherone Book Contest and Furniture Press Book Contest Finalist. Her poetry has been exhibited at the Exploratorium Museum in San Francisco, the Poets House Showcase in New York, Project Row Houses in Houston, SUNY Buffalo, and the Rochambeau Library in Providence. She was a founding member of two poetry performance/multimedia collectives, dIsh and Femshi. From 2009–2011 she was an Affiliate Artist at Headlands Center for the Arts. She manages programs for the Center for the Collaborative Classroom, is certified as an integral coach through New Ventures West, and serves on the California Book Awards poetry jury.

 

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I’ve always been attracted by the nontraditional in art and by contemporary work that finds meaning—even necessity—in testing the established, pre-approved limits of its medium.
I did not think there was an “I”—a self—that existed apart from representations—texts of one kind or another—but I was urgent to “tell my story,” a completely different kind of truth, the strange story of the marginalized experience of a sexual minority whose existence was rather experimental itself, and had yet to appear in our literary forum.
Each generation [of poets] has a necessity that it has to work out for itself. And the intelligence will only help you so far in that task, and then you have to reside in your imagination.
Our very greatest human thing—which is language to me—musicians would say it’s music, but I think it’s language—our very greatest human thing is wild. Uncontrollable. It is impossible to put boundaries on your words, even if you make a poem.
I’ve heard people who do in poetry something that emulates what Coltrane does. They’ll actually scream, do things of that sort…. My screaming is … the fraying of meanings; it’s the colliding of sounds that creates certain consternations of meaning that might be the counterpart of the scream, analogous to the scream.
I have an ironic relationship to figures of speech as they are in the world, and a fascination with the mystery that occurs as we reframe them. We let them pass as everyday-life words, and yet if we pull back just a step, they acquire a kind of poetic estrangement.
The world out there can’t ever be exactly reenacted. But through working in these repeating forms over a long period of time, I’m exploring how the things of the world can be enacted in language.
I would argue that poetry-making is not a solitary but a communal activity. Part of our ethical work as writers … is to engage with that, to be good readers and responders, to participate in some way.
I am not of the school that one ought to run around trying to have extreme experiences in order to become a more interesting person. I do think, though, that when things go really, really wrong, and people act out violently, it’s in those moments that you see the playability of reality.
I think people being actively aware are jumping out of a propagandized state of social conventions. Writing could be an active state outside social convention. Yet it is not to be alone, not to withdraw, or to fail to pay attention. In that case one couldn’t write, because what would there be to write?
My drive in thinking about writing something is the question, How can I look at this information and re-sort it in a way that helps me to understand it? I’ll think, Oh, gee, I’m really confused about colonialism and my role in it; I’m going to sit down and try to think about some ways that I can gain an understanding of it.
Speaking English was the way that I separated myself from my parents…. Becoming a writer was a way to further separate … especially because in my writing I examine issues such as being gay and being raised Catholic. But … the more I’ve written, the more I’ve circled back to the connections and stories that originated in my family.