“You picture your mother as a tree
– somehow that makes it easier.
A silver birch, undressing
unhurriedly, as though days were years,
while a fine rain plays
like jazz in her hair. She drops
her fine, white leaves
one by one. Her branches
are almost bare now. See,
how beautiful she is against the darkening sky.”—Shazea Quraishi, “Still Light”
“Sometimes I worry I will die before I will write the books I feel compelled to write. Sometimes I worry that my years of being a productive writer are somehow over, and yet I don’t feel I have really written anything yet, that I need to if possible become stronger as a human being in order to write the books I really want to write.”—Kate Zambreno, “Pussy Riot”
I consider myself a success story. Because I am alive I mean, and because I think writing and books and art are the reason. As a writer, I’m not so sure I see much difference in the storylines for women and girls who enter the field. I see that some art is rewarded for being “universal,” and it is written by men. Other art is deemed confessional. Or sentimental. Or too subjective. And it is written by women. I see that straight white men are published in prestigious venues more often than women. I see that women are told by editors and agents and publishers to take explicitly sexual or violent or subjective language out of their work unless they can bend the language toward the culture in a way that will sell. These are gendered terms, laden with a force as real as my father’s. I write my heart out. I do. For better or worse. I write my heart out because my heart, well, she was almost taken from me. Every year of my life until now. It’s something I can “do.” A verb. Something that has at least a chance of interrupting another girl or boy’s story with other options. Write. Make art. Find others. It’s a choice.
Listen, I know this is a bit of a dreary story. But whenever I get told that, by friends, or agents, or editors, or publishers, I think, if this dreary story is hard for you to live with, how are we supposed to live with you?
“I arrange my memory in readiness for the grave,
Put spices in her shroud and silver coins;
The snow is still on the cemetery ridge;
I lie down beside the body on my bed.”—Máire Mhac an tSaoi, “One Year After" (translated by Louis de Paor)
“There is no need for you to leave the house. Stay at your table and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait. Don’t even wait, be completely quiet and alone. The world will offer itself to you to be unmasked; it can’t do otherwise; in raptures it will writhe before you.”—Franz Kafka, The Blue Octavo Notebooks(translated by Ernst Kaiser and Eithne Wilkins)
“There are rooms I won’t enter, at whose threshold I say
this is as far as I go, no farther, almost as if I can sense
there’s something in there I don’t want to see, or for which
to see means having wanted already to forget…”—Timothy Donnelly, from “Globus Hystericus” (via proustitute)
As an amateur poet, I'm wondering who are some of your influences as a writer?
I’m influenced (and inspired) by Marguerite Duras, Sylvia Plath, Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, Clarice Lispector, Lidia Yuknavitch, Willa Cather, Anna Kamienska, Rose Auslander, Ingeborg Bachmann, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, H.D., Helene Cixous, Anna Kavan, Leslie Marmon Silko, Rebecca Solnit, and Eudora Welty.
Writing is an act of survival for me. If I’m not writing then I am not living. All of these women are mothers to me; they show me how to write, how to live, how to see, how to feel, and, above all, how to create.
“Sometimes, immersed in his books, there would come to him the awareness of all that he did not know, of all that he had not read; and the serenity for which he labored was shattered as he realized the little time he had in life to read so much, to learn what he had to know.”—John Williams, Stoner
“Remind the fallen fruit
Of its leaves and branches,
Remind the sharp thorns
How soft and green they were in springtime,
And do not forget,
Even a fist
Was once an open palm and fingers.”—Yehuda Amichai, from “Anniversaries of War” (translated by Benjamin Garshav and Barbara Harshav)
“Putting my hand in someone else’s has always been my definition of happiness. Before I fall asleep, often - in that small struggle not to lose consciousness and go into the greater world - often, before I get up the courage to go into the vastness of sleep, I pretend that someone has my hand in theirs, and then I go, go to that enormous absence of form that is sleep. And when even after that I don’t have courage, I dream.”—Clarice Lispector, The Passion According to G.H. (translated by Ronald W. Sousa)
“As I walked I looked at the dark basalt hills, and at the cactus and shrubs and trees; all of them were in harmony with one another, and I felt within that beauty. In an instant I saw that even man-made things—the roll of old fence wire, the old rail ties withered by sixty years of the heat and sun—were in the light of that beauty. In that beauty we all will sink slowly back into the lap of the earth.”—Leslie Marmon Silko, The Turquoise Ledge
“After they all leave,
I remain alone with the poems,
some poems of mine, some of others.
I prefer poems that others have written.
I remain quiet, and slowly
the knot in my throat dissolves.
I remain.”—Dahlia Ravikovitch, from “Surely You Remember” (translated by Chana Bloch and Ariel Bloch)