Poet Of The Week

Julia Knobloch

     December 26, 2016–January 1, 2017

Julia Knobloch is a journalist and translator turned project manager and executive assistant. Before coming to New York, she worked 10+ years as a writer and producer for TV documentaries and radio features. Her essays and reportage have appeared in print and online publications in Germany, Argentina and the US (openDemocracy, the Brooklyn Rail, Reality Sandwich). She occasionally blogs for ReformJudaism.org. She is the winner of our 2016 Yawp Poem of the Year award for the poem below.

Author photo by JP Robbins

Daylight Saving Time

 
On the last evening of daylight saving time, the sky stands still in pink
     and orange,
the clouds are dunes, ruffled by a desert wind.
Silent shimmer fills the avenue and for an instant,
your life makes sense with unobtrusive depth, until the universe slips
     away again.

Seven years you’ve been in this country, and you haven’t planted
     anything,
not one out of one million trees, no herbs in a community garden.
You can’t afford to buy a studio in the Bronx, you barely make rent;
you won’t give birth to a first-generation American.
Not that you haven’t tried.

Seven years, and your roots remain flimsy, above ground.
Every year come November, you anxiously wait for someone
to pity the poor immigrant and have you over for Thanksgiving.
No, you don’t hate your life.
Yes, sometimes you wish you would’ve stayed home,
wherever that was, but what is worse,
a dream unlived or unfulfilled?
You don’t know if it’s a lie if it don’t come true.
You know that nobody has taken you to any river in many years.

Since when do memories make you feel lost, not safe?
Since when can’t you get rid of those extra pounds?
Since when do you cry on the subway, held, delayed?
You have no patience when people tell you in their bland
let’s-get-to-work-and-heal-this-country manner
that you grow from your challenges,
that life is about learning,
that the journey is more important than the destination.
You are sick and tired of growing and learning and journeying;
you can fill books with your accumulated growth and strength and yet,
after seven years in this city,
you still don’t know a con man when you see one.

Is it foolish or arrogant to believe that not everyone is looking for the
     bigger, better deal?
Do you underestimate or overestimate the men you fall in love with?
Is unrequited love actually love or some pitiable surrogate experience?

Four years you’ve lived in this house
on this garnet glowing block.
Four years, and two men have moved out.

The first one—you couldn’t wait for him to disappear,
though you still use some of the stuff he left behind:
coffee table, kitchen utensils.
He left you so broke, you didn’t have a choice, and later,
you didn’t care enough to get rid of it.
The second one—you shoved the tiniest trace of him into his suitcase
     and tote bags,
took it all out and shoved it all back again, before he finally came and
     took everything
across the river, and your broken heart cried: Don’t go! Come back!
He did not listen. He will not return.

What is the sense of amassing memories when they end up
aborted, miscarried, stillborn, or you can’t share them with anyone
because those you shared them with are no longer in your life?
People say, leave the past behind, but how can you leave it behind
when the past defines your present and your future,
when you can’t forget because
every street corner, every movie theater, every subway line,
every season, every reading, every holiday,
every song, every laughter, every prayer reminds you of dreams lived but
     unfulfilled?

While you search your purse for the keys, you think of your bikini that is
     still
in the beach bag, together with the empty sunscreen flask, the Luna card,
the napkins from Nathan’s, and for an instant,
you manage to tell yourself that there is space
between despair and bitterness,
between net worth and worth less,
between indifference and obsession,
between knowing and not knowing,
between forgetting and remembering.

You just saw it in the sky.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

It’s one of those poems that sit with you for a long time and then suddenly, if the universe aligns, it flows out. I walk a lot through the lowlands and hills of Brooklyn, and this poem is the result of many walks and thoughts, sentiments, reflections—some old, some very fresh. The beginning is pretty much a description of what happened. Some people may remember the sky that day—it was popular on Instagram. While I looked at the sky, the poem took shape. When I sat down that evening, I revisited a draft that was inspired by a YAWP workshop, where we were prompted to write a “how to” poem. Elements of that draft went into this poem. I wanted to write what would be an “American Poem”—that was the original title, but “Daylight Saving Time” gives it a transcendental note, which was important to me.

What are you working on right now?

Recently, so many poems feel ripe and I write them as they come out, jumping between themes and styles, old and new ideas. Creative chaos. I’ve been posting a lot on the Bridge, trying to figure out what a chapbook could look like.

In early 2016, an old friend of mine died and I’ve written several poems that deal with this event in one way or another. Two or three poems are still missing to make it feel complete—they are difficult to write—but it could become some sort of a collection as well.

What’s a good day for you?

A day with laughter, good conversation, a tasty meal. Any or all of the above. Bonus points for humid, tropical temperatures, sunshine on my skin, and writing something that I feel might go somewhere.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

The lure of a large room with a private deck in a shared brownstone close to Prospect Park, for less than what I paid for a narrow box in a cramped tenement apartment on 10th Avenue in Manhattan, strategically located near the ramp to the Lincoln Tunnel.

Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?

I’ve been living in Sunset Park for the past four years. There are other neighborhoods where I could see myself, but I love it here. I’m friends with several of my neighbors, we have block parties and hang out in our backyards, my landlords are great. It’s my home.

I like the light from the bay, and seeing the Verrazano Bridge when I ride my bike down 5th Avenue. Changes—Brooklyn Flea came to Industry City. Baked in Brooklyn raised its prices. Green-Wood Cemetery is now a major tourist and event destination. The Polish delicatessen is gone. A sophisticated wine store, Greenwood Grape & Still, opened on 4th Avenue and 24th Street, and there are more decent yet casual dining opportunities now, like Nostro Ristorante.

It reminds me of certain neighborhoods in Buenos Aires and of the abandoned industrial areas that fascinated me as a child. It’s not as pretty as some other places I’ve lived in, and sometimes, I miss Manhattan, the density of it. Then again, I really love the wide, open avenues in southern Brooklyn. The sea is closer here.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.

I used to curate and guide literature-based tours for German tourists in New York. I would take the group to the ferry in downtown Manhattan and cross into Brooklyn and read them excerpts from “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” It gave me goosebumps and made me happy. Had someone asked me then where I was from, I would have answered: Brooklyn, where else?

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?

It’s a space where you exchange thoughts, passions, doubts, ideas with like-minded people, even if they differ in style and taste, but it’s the shared interest in poetry itself that connects them and makes them bond and grow. I may be in the process of finding this. I wish I had more constructive critique/exchange, a consistent group of peers.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

The Brooklyn Poets folks.

Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

I haven’t met any mentors yet. Maybe a poet whom I met at the Taos Summer Writers Conference in 2014, my friend Iris Tillman Hill.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

The most recent one I read was Amos Oz, Don’t Call it Night. It’s fiction, poetry, dreamlike narrative, personal imagery. Powerful and tender.

There was a poem in the New Yorker the other day that intrigued me: “Machismo” by Mario Chard.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

There are too many.

Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?

Some books, novels, really, I’ll read cover to cover without thinking of opening another book. Usually, I have several books on my night table, and I read them simultaneously—poetry, non-fiction, Torah. Most of my reading happens organically, that’s also why that list of books or poems I’ve been meaning to read for years is so long.

I don’t even have a Kindle. I’m an avid note-taker. When I don’t carry a notepad, I scribble on ConEd envelopes or whatever paper I find in my purse.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

1) A really strict, formal structure—a villanelle, a sestina.

2) Something more lighthearted / less personal.

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

Writing: Definitely at home. Roots Café on 5th Avenue. Anywhere when I’m traveling.

Reading: In my bed. At the beach. On the subway. In company.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

Coney Island—for its mix of escapism and pragmatism, of history and dreams, of fiction and reality. Because it’s just a bike ride away.

The bay at sunset, because it produces the most coruscating colors.

Crown Heights, because of the spiritually infused connections I’m making there. Because it feels like its name.

61 Local, because of the poetry community that convenes there.

The R train when I see it approaching from the platform at Pacific Street, because it promises that I’ll be home soon.

Barbès. The 9th Street Bridge in Gowanus. My backyard.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate songs.
And what I celebrate you sing,
For every note resonates in me as good reverberates in you.

Why Brooklyn?

It was there, across the river.