Contest 2012: An Interview with Poetry Judge Sabrina Orah Mark

Aug 29, 2012 | Archive, Interviews

Interview by LAURA KOCHMAN

I am so excited, because Sabrina Orah Mark is our poetry contest judge this year. You should probably be excited, too–she’s the author of The Babies and Tsim Tsum, both from Saturnalia Books, and you can find her work in Best American Poetry 2007 and the anthology Legitimate Dangers.

If you are not yet enthused, or if you have an interest in becoming even more enthused than you already are, Sabrina answers a few questions below:


Black Warrior Review: In your last interview with BWR, you talked a bit about the term tsim tsum, the phase in creation where the creator must leave his/her creation behind. Does this apply to the writing process?

Sabrina Orah Mark: Tsim Tsum spelled backwards is Mist Must, which feels even more apropos to the writing process, no?  First there is the fog (mist), and then there is the necessary thing (must). Or, maybe must here is decay, or fetor, or fustiness. Like, listen here writers: mist the rot! Spray it! The other day, my friend bought me a bowl of gorgeous figs from her fig tree. In no time they grew moldish and furry. I’m not criticizing my friend or the figs. I’m just saying I should’ve misted them. I’m just saying I’m kicking myself right now for throwing them out. There might have been an amazing poem or story inside one of those little fig guys. Now they are dead.

BWR: Do you have any recurring dreams?

SOM: My favorite recurring dream isn’t mine. It’s my stepmother’s. In this dream there is a war and my stepmother, Harriet, is running.  On her calf there is a living mouth. If the mouth isn’t fed Harriet can’t run. Every few minutes she must stop to gather berries or leaves or sometimes there is luckily some meat on the ground. Harriet runs, and runs, and runs. Stops. Feeds the mouth on her leg. Then runs faster. Because there is a war. And she must keep running from the enemy.

I have desperately tried to dream this dream myself so I can get that mouth to not only eat, but say something. What would it say?  Probably lies. Yes, probably lies. But those lies would be killer.

BWR: How would you feel if a reader completely misunderstood your work, but loved their experience of it? I guess what I mean is, how much stake do you put in writer experience versus reader experience?

SOM: I love this question because my favorite part of a story or poem is when everybody misunderstands one another. If I had Roseanne Roseannadanna as my writing partner I have no doubt my stories and poems would have the time of their lives. Now they are only having the time of their loaves. Which is different. Which brings us to bread, which brings us back to mold. Which brings us back to the must. I’m not sure what my point here is, other than the fact there is a print above my writing desk that reads “FACTS MUST BE FACED” with an image of a rooster standing on top of a sheep standing on top of a pig standing on top of a cow. The cow is wearing the identical hat my grandfather, when he was alive, wore to synagogue.

BWR: Most of The Babies is in prose, and all of Tsim Tsum is in prose. You must get asked about prose poetry a lot. Are you still excited about it? What have you always wanted to say about prose poetry that you’ve never been asked?

SOM: I wish some bully in a playground would ask me, “if you love the prose poem so much why don’t you marry it?” And I would say, “but I have married the prose poem.” I would say, “He is the most handsome man in the world. And he is wise, and kind, and good, and he treats me like a queen.” I would say, “If I could I would marry the prose poem every day for the rest of my life.” And then my voice would get serious, and I would ask the bully if he knew up until about ten years ago it was illegal in this country for a white Jewish woman to marry a prose poem? At this the bully would probably cry and try to run away, but I would catch him by the collar and tell him the prose poem and I now have a beautiful son. I would show him photos of our beautiful son. “He too,” I would say, “is a prose poem. He speaks to the shadows.”

BWR: Could you recommend a really great book?

SOM: How about 10?

  1. Stacey Levine’s The Girl with Brown Fur
  2. Amber Dermont’s The Starboard Sea
  3. Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal
  4. Nathan Englander’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank
  5. Reginald McKnight’s He Sleeps
  6. Kirsten Kaschock’s Sleight
  7. Oni Buchanan’s What Animal
  8. Maurice Manning’s Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions
  9. Cathy Park Hong’s Dance, Dance Revolution
  10. Thomas Heise’s Horror Vacui

Click here for more information about our annual contest.