Poet Of The Week

Sarah Jean Grimm

     February 1–7, 2016

Sarah Jean Grimm is a publicist at Penguin Random House and co-founder of the online poetry quarterly Powder Keg Magazine. Her work has appeared in the Atlas Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, Jellyfish Magazine, Lifted Brow, Sixth Finch and elsewhere.

Shapewear

 
A body is matter to be molded
By use of whale bone and lace or
By taking a body for long walks

There are ways to file one down
To make a body a better shape
Not this boring shrub fruit

Try an hourglass if you want to
Remind a man of his mortality

Best to become a clock
The sands of time will get up inside you
Each time you are picked up and turned over

You will always be itching
Never mind the home remedies
Some men like to have a project
To hammer away at

Did you know some women are shaped like bananas
I have never seen one myself
In the wild

Only as Figure 3. in a state-approved textbook
Because they teach this stuff in health class
To lead girls into their own dysmorphia

You are what you eat
So from now on I am surviving on spunk
I want to possess whatever allows you to be bold
Without getting called feisty

My gut reaction when I am in the world
Is to apologize whether or not I am sorry

No one’s ever said sorry to me
For making my eyelashes stick together
With their egg on my face

I am doll eyes I need a doll waist
I make a lovely figure with what I’ve been given
When I encase my body in exoskeleton

This is how I want
To be looked at but not seen

Who decides what the body absorbs
Versus what it reflects

And how are our bodies not
The most boring thing about us
By now

I would starve mine to transcend
Or shuffle off
If I knew you wouldn’t find it cute

I would stand naked at the altar
In the name of the Patriarchy
In the name of its Sons
In the name of the Spirit of Capitalism

When can we retire the syllogism
Time is money is the root of evil

We all know that women are the root
And the dirt and the stem and the bulb

We are ripe swelling fruits
Carrying the seeds
Of our mutually assured destruction

The ways in which we fuck each other up
Let me count them
They are endless fluffy sheep
Bedding me for beauty rest

 
–Originally published in H_NGM_N #17, May 2015.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

This was a title-first poem. I like the tidiness of the phrase and the complexity it holds. It’s a name for a whole category of attire, loaded with historical context; it’s a name for a specific object people can buy to make themselves more specifically attractive objects; it speaks to the reciprocal nature of externally enforced and internalized standards of beauty. There’s some great long form writing about the inviolability and inherent un-sexiness of shapewear, the optical illusion and deception involved. This was my hot take.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a chapbook manuscript, which means writing new poems and excising old work.

What’s a good day for you?

I wake up early and without an alarm clock. If it’s the weekend, I join the brunch throng, sip on some cocktails and walk a while in any direction. I get to talk and laugh with people I love. It stays light a long time. At home, my cat greets me at the door and keeps me company, while whatever I choose to do feels okay.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

I moved to Brooklyn in 2012, when I got priced out of my apartment in Alphabet City. Before that, I lived in the Bronx. I’m in my third Brooklyn apartment now—what keeps me here is something like a sense of home, though it’s hard to say when that kicked in. It used to be that my brother lived close by, but he’s since moved to Los Angeles, and I’m still here, aghast at the thought of leaving.

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 live in Windsor Terrace, which is a nine-block strip of land between Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery. That smallness is sort of in the air—urban privacy meets suburban intimacy, somehow. Businesses close early; months passed before I ever saw my local pharmacy open during the day; I run into friends and acquaintances and familiar faces all the time. As it’s the first apartment I’ve ever had to myself, I’m sometimes surprised by the security and independence and excitement I feel just being here.

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

Walking in Fort Greene, not paying attention, I tripped over a lip in the sidewalk and fell pretty hard—twisted my ankle, cut my hands open, embarrassed myself. A little girl in a princess dress ran over and gave me a cup of lemonade from her stand.

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

The Internet makes the world small. You don’t have to live anywhere near your kind to find them. I’m thinking of the brilliant Australian poet Zoe Dzunko and the community we’ve forged together in founding an online magazine. In Brooklyn and elsewhere, I’m lucky to be friends with many poets whose work I admire.

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

I suppose the Brooklyn poets who have been the most important to me are those who have challenged, surprised or welcomed me, and in the best cases, have done all three.

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

This question feels impossible to answer in an exhaustive sense, and I’d hate to leave anyone out. I’ve been very fortunate to read and know and work with so many generous people and mesmerizing thinkers.

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

I saw Niina Pollari read last week and I was reminded of all the reasons I loved her book Dead Horse. Why do Niina’s poems stand out to me? She casts a spell, quite honestly. She weirds language and she logics until it’s nearly illogical—you laugh in wonder and wish your own brain worked that way. Some other books that loomed especially large for me in the last year include Anne Boyer’s Garments Against Women, Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, Amy Berkowitz’s Tender Points and Kelly Schirmann and Tyler Brewington’s Boyfriend Mountain.

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

The books I’m desperate to read are actually pretty recent publications: Alexandra Kleeman’s You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine, Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, Rachel B. Glaser’s Paulina & Fran. But okay, if I’m being hyper-honest, I still haven’t read Moby-Dick. Oh god, it’s my white whale …

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?

It depends what I’m reading, and whether it’s for my job or “for pleasure”—though the two do overlap. But there are books I want to read at my own pace and there are books I have to read on deadline. When I’m reading in the latter capacity, I definitely have a pen in hand. I prefer a physical book, and although I support marginalia, I usually choose to preserve the integrity of the object. If I’m moved to take notes, it’s on my iPhone. I plan out my reading insofar as I have a huge pile of books to be read, and the accompanying anxious knowledge that I’ll never be able to read everything I’d like to.

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

I do a lot of reading on the subway. A fair amount of thinking and writing happens there too. Occasionally I’ll make use of a café with an outlet; otherwise, home. I do like being there.

What are some other Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

I love Green-Wood Cemetery in any season. I’m enamored with my local bookstore, Terrace Books, which is owned by the same folks who own Community Bookstore. They recommended the Neapolitan novels to me, so now I guess I owe them my firstborn. And there are some magical places I’m still missing from my old neighborhood, all involving the best food and the warmest staff: The Blue Stove, Dun-Well Doughnuts, Paulie Gee’s, Momo Sushi Shack …

Why Brooklyn?

I miss it when I’m gone.