Poet Of The Week

Cynthia Cruz

     October 6–12, 2014

Cynthia Cruz’s first collection, Ruin, was published by Alice James Books in 2006. Her second collection, The Glimmering Room, was published in 2012 and her third collection, Wunderkammer, in 2014 by Four Way Books. Her poems have been published in the New Yorker, Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Boston Review and many other journals, and her essays, art and book reviews have been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Rumpus and Hyperallergic. She has taught at many colleges and universities, including the New School, Julliard, Queens College and the Rutgers-Newark MFA Program, as well as with Teachers & Writers Collaborative. She is the recipient of fellowships from Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony and a Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University. She currently teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and is an art editor at Guernica magazine.


When I was seven death
Crept into me: black shellacked
And lavatorial, it dragged me
Down to its sea of drowned
Animals, their wet fur, elaborate
Blankets clinging to their bodies,
Their eyes, Swarovski glittering
In the brine of the green ocean.
I nearly went blind, then,
As it led me further.
Down, it drove me, to the baby:
Spoon-fed, and senseless. Like music
For centuries. I swam in its murk and
Viscera, its worrying warm milk
Whispering to me. Elysian,
Wandering the dark fields,
Its cathedrals of speech, and its shut
Doors. Until the world was a room
Of silver mollusks and eels, old black and white
Photographs, and obsolete maps strung on walls.
I lost my voice. Then the delicate
Metal clasp came undone. Mother,
I never recovered. Childlike
Inside my middle-aged body, I am
Sleepwalking inside the whirring
Factory of my memory-less life, I am
Waiting, impatiently, for the violent
White song of the ambulance
Siren when it comes to take me,
Finally wake me.

–From Wunderkammer, Four Way Books, 2014.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

I wrote this book or, rather, the first ghost of the poems in this book, while a Hodder Fellow at Princeton. I was not living in Princeton and so commuted daily (M-F) to campus where I would hibernate inside their awesome library. I love that library—such a vault and of course, an archive. I spent that year in the library researching clutter, chaos, trauma and the archive, which are what this book draws from. I spent the year immersed in the works of Rosemarie Trockel, Dieter Roth, Hanne Darboven, Aby Warburg and Walter Benjamin, among others. The poems in this book are meant to cull from this vibrant encyclopedia and each poem, I hope, is a tiny file belonging to this larger project (the book) and yet, also, a file of its own.

Some of the poems were drummed out of me while on that train from Princeton to the city and back again. “Todearten” is one and this one, “Nebenwelt,” is another. The train and the movement from Greenpoint to Princeton, Princeton to Greenpoint made a kind of music I utilized for the poems, for the book. Riding the train felt at times like being pulled forward into another world. Movement is this for me: a means of eking out meaning. In any case, those train rides, that constant travel and movement drummed, in a sense, this (and other) poems out of me.

What are you working on right now?

I am at work on my fifth collection of poems, currently titled The Memory Clinic. In this collection, I am exploring and evoking the work of Clarice Lispector, Ingeborg Bachmann and Marguerite Duras. I am interested in how their work resists, and how it utilizes silence as a form of resistance. I am also very interested in their beginnings and how, in different ways, their beginnings formed them and how they then used writing as a means of moving from the germ of who they were. For Duras and Lispector, their origins are mired in poverty and trauma and for Bachmann, her childhood was stained in trauma and witness. How these initial instances then formed these writers, their writing and who they would become is incredibly interesting to me.

I am also currently working on a second masters degree in Art Criticism & Writing. I am working on essays and am specifically at work on a series of projects exploring trauma and artists and writers and how these artists and writers enact trauma through clutter, chaos and the archive. I am also working on a series of essays exploring the idea of the silenced Other in literature and art.

What is a good day for you?

A good day for me is a day in which I have the opportunity to read and write!

How long have you lived in Brooklyn?

8 1/2 years

What neighborhood do you live in?

Greenpoint, near the Pulaski Bridge.

What do you like most about it?

I love how quiet the neighborhood is—and yet how near it is to Manhattan. I also love my coffeeshop, Champion, which is literally less than a block away. They moved into the neighborhood when we (my husband Steve and I) did so we feel a close kinship to them.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience.

A few years ago Steve and I were out with a friend who was visiting from out of town. When we returned home, there was a note on our door telling us to see the neighbors on the 2nd floor. When we did, we learned that somehow our toaster had caught on fire and, as a result, both our cats had fled for safety. One of our cats, Trixie, ran down the stairs of the apartment complex and found refuge in the apartment of our first floor neighbors. But Mimi, our little one, ran out to the porch when the firemen opened the door, and she jumped four flights to safety.

As she was jumping (or falling), our neighbor, Angela, who lived in the second floor (she had left us the note), just happened to see Mimi flying in the air. She ran outside and saw little Mimi on the sidewalk. Angela scooped Mimi up and caught the train with her all the way to Park Slope so Mimi could be cared for by her vet there.

This story represents for me one of the things I love so much about Brooklyn and, in particular, my neighborhood: though we are a city, our neighborhood, and our neighbors exist as if in a small village. We know each other and we care about each other.

Favorite Brooklyn poets, dead and/or alive?

I love and feel a close kinship for all Brooklyn poets~

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore?

Spoonbill & Sugartown. Why? because they have an incredible selection of books: art books, art criticism, poetry, theory, philosophy and fantastic magazines.

Favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn?

When I have to get work done I like to go to Budin, a newish Scandinavian coffee shop in Greenpoint.

Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving read and writing?

I love Beacon’s Closet in Greenpoint, where I buy most of my clothes. For coffee, I love Konditori, a Swedish coffee shop in Greenpoint.

Last awesome book of poems you read?

Fanny Howe, Second Childhood.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate un-knowingness.
And what I love about you, you should love about you, too.
For every thing inside of me exists also inside of you.

Why Brooklyn?

Because it is my home!