January 11–17, 2021
Erin Mizrahi (she/they) is a poet, scholar, educator, curator and collaborator living in Los Angeles and teaching English for New York University’s LA campus. She holds a PhD in comparative studies in literature, media and culture from the University of Southern California and has held fellowships with Asylum Arts, the Shoah Foundation and the Institute for Jewish Creativity. Mizrahi is co-founding editor of Cobra Milk, a new multimedia literary and arts journal, and director of the Cobra Milk reading series. Their writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Yes Poetry, Ginger Zine, Anti-Heroin Chic, Ben Yehuda Press and elsewhere. On Thursday, January 21, Mizrahi will read online as part of the Brooklyn Poets Staff Picks reading series.
I was going to hear Judith Butler speak but I didn’t
instead I ate a salad
and returned some things from Amazon
and I think she might’ve liked that
how casually capitalistic my absence came to be
and absence always means
It’s all my department’s been talking about
Judith Butler is coming!
Judith will be joining us for happy hour!
Here’s a reading list of books to read to prepare you
for the event of Judith!
I’ve met Judith once before
in a bar in New York off of Washington Square
I asked her to take a selfie with me and she said No
so we just took a regular photograph
once when I was drunk I shouted
I wish Judith Butler was my daddy!
and my friend said,
She’s already everyone’s daddy!
and here I am giving an account of myself
I’m finally ready to birth my dissertation
I’ve been carrying it far too long
I’m eager to see what strange bloom comes to be
when the new recruits ask what year I am
I’ve learned to stop saying 7th
and start saying final
I’m in my final year
and I’m not sure that sounds much better
maybe I should’ve gone to her talk
I bet she said some stuff
about Kafka and violence and law
and I suddenly can’t stop thinking about gender
I heard this poet read some extra dimensional stuff about gender
she said she had to commune with another species before writing
and it was wild and full of sadness
even her name was poetry
Marsha de la O
A whole alphabet of tendrils
you said let’s do something whimsical
I said let’s go look for Joshua trees
in places other than Joshua Tree
and it’s possible I missed the point
but what a beautiful detour
I’ve been thinking about how “idk”
could just as easily mean I DO know
and I half expect all words to suddenly burst into flame
am I performing my social construction?
are we undone by each other?
I wrote a poem about great literature and cock
and it was referred to as my “first mature work”
my therapist called me a romantic masochist
with annihilation fantasy
and I still don’t know what that means
I’m increasingly surprised that people
want to hear me talk about Derrida
which is like super Derridian
but if I look at you
and you look back
is that a poem?
and I’m somewhere between
I’ll rewrite whole sentences to hide
the fact that I can’t grammar
and I’m certain hell is people over thirty
trying to explain virtual currency
You see I dreamt of words when I was young
sometimes I want to add a “ue” to the end
of young so it reads like tongue
I wrote about power and drag in the desert
I stood there staring at the sky
like I was waiting for the moon to hatch
you whispered Persephone into my second mouth
I whispered desire is a construct and we’re all subjects of desire
then curled into the flower kingdom of your chest
are we deconstructing?
I called you a method writer
because you wrote about the desert mood
and it made you moody
Listen, I’ve decided I’m over bras
What I want is a bra that recites Kathy Acker when touched
What I want is touch
but in the way where we leave language in each other’s mouths
What I’m trying to say is
in spite of everything
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I wrote this poem during the last semester of my PhD. I was in the final stretch of a seven-year degree and was scrambling to finish my dissertation on silence as trauma testimony. The poem is my own processing of multiple anxieties colliding. I remember making the decision to skip Judith Butler’s talk because I was too overwhelmed. I knew the entire department would be there and I had just struck out on the job market. Despite the excitement of being so close to completing my doctorate, I was terrified not having anything lined up for after. It was also a significant time for me because I had been returning to poetry in a serious way for the first time since high school. I had even written my dissertation in a kind of prose-poetry style. I was balancing academic life, my rekindled creative writing, a new relationship and an uncertain future all colliding in this piece. The poem is really a time capsule of that period of my life.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on creating some kind of writing routine. I haven’t been writing much poetry during this pandemic so I’m working on pushing through the fog.
I’m cowriting a book with a close friend titled Dear Desert: A Midbara Manifesto. It’s an experimental book of prose and poetry that explores literal and metaphoric deserts, climate change, and what we’re calling eco-Judeo-poetics. We received a small grant from Asylum Arts and the Institute of Jewish Creativity for this project. We’re planning to finish the book by the summer.
What’s a good day for you?
Any day I spend time outside is a good day. Lately good days have also been full of reading, balcony gardening, cooking meals with my partner and pulling tarot cards together. Creating small rituals has been really key for me during this time.
Where’s home for you? How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other places you’ve lived?
I moved back to Los Angeles in the spring. I’m glad to be back home close to my family and my partner’s family although I very much miss New York and my community there. I like that the beach, mountains and desert aren’t so far away. I’m also someone who is easily affected by the weather, so I definitely feel the difference being in the sunshine here.
Spent any time in Brooklyn? If so, when and where? Share with us your experiences, impressions, etc.
I love Brooklyn although I’ve never lived there. Brooklyn holds a very special place for me because it’s where Cobra Milk was born. I cofounded Cobra Milk with a dear musician friend, Johnny Rezvani, in February 2019. We wanted to create a monthly series that featured writers and musicians and were lucky to find a home at the Cobra Club in Bushwick. We named our series in honor of the Cobra Club. Even though Johnny and I have left New York and the series is now virtual, the name reminds us of its roots in Brooklyn.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that where you live? Why or why not?
Poetry community means more to me than I can express here. I’ve always valued community and collaboration. Even though writing is a solitary process to an extent, my favorite part is sharing work and connecting with other writers. I also love collaborating and have been fortunate to work on projects with writers I admire.
My reading series Cobra Milk evolved into a literary magazine in June. It was our attempt to build connections in the middle of a compressing and isolating time. It also felt like a natural progression given my love of the poetry community. It’s been amazing to see something that started as a small gathering of local writers in Bushwick has expanded into a larger community of writers, musicians and artists located all over the world.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
There are so many. The Brooklyn Poets community has meant so much to me. I had my first workshops with Jason Koo and Laura Eve Engel, who were beyond amazing. I learned so much from them and love the way they create such an open and generous space for people giving feedback and listening to each other. I’ve been lucky to connect with so many incredible Brooklyn poets. The first poets I really connected with were Bonnie Billet and Tori Ashley Matos. I had workshops with them and really resonated with their work. They’ve both been featured readers in the Cobra Milk series and have poems published or forthcoming in the lit mag.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
Until I discovered Brooklyn Poets, my only poetry mentor was my high school teacher Melody Mansfield, who is an amazing human being. I took creative writing with her and then my senior year I did an independent study with her on poetry. She was so encouraging of my writing and really gave me the confidence to pursue poetry. We used to do these poetry readings in the library during lunch time, which I always looked forward to even though reading my work aloud made me nervous.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
I’m so tempted to make a long list here but I’ll resist. Two recent books I really loved were Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado and The Letters of Mina Harker by Dodie Bellamy. I also recommend everything they’ve written. There’s a lot I admire in their writing, especially the way they resist genre in such wild and exciting ways. They push narrative in a way that has me both intoxicated with their language and storytelling but also feeling and processing all the deeper layers woven within. They definitely inspire me to take risks in my own writing and to really question what a written text can do.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
Ulysses has been on my to-do list longer than any other book but I’m not sure I’ll ever get to it.
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?
I definitely prefer physical books and I have never been able to read just one at a time. I always have several stacks of books I’m reading. It drives my partner a little nuts, especially when we travel and I bring a small suitcase of just books.
I only take notes in pencil. I know they smudge and fade but there’s something sacred about books; I just can’t bring myself to use pens or highlight unless it’s on a Post-it.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I really want to try a series of visual poems. I’ve worked on erasures for a while and love the aesthetic aspect but I’ve never attempted visual poems. My mom is an amazing artist and I used to study painting, drawing and photography a long time ago. I might give it a try in the desert book I’m working on. I have a whole series of photographs I took in national parks and think they would work really well for this project.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
It’s so weird to think about now but I’ve always loved working in crowded cafés, especially ones with free coffee refills. There’s something about being surrounded by people and the sound of overlapping conversations that I always found was the perfect backdrop for reading or writing. The Hungarian pastry shop near Columbia was one of my favorite work spots. It’s funny, my two favorite places to write are super-crowded cafés and the quiet of the desert. I wrote much of my dissertation and a lot of my poetry in Joshua Tree, another one of my favorite places.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
The Cobra Club will always feel like home to me. Another favorite spot is Four & Twenty Blackbirds in Gowanus. I swear it’s the best pie you’ll ever have. I have a lot of memories meeting friends there to write and hang out over pie and coffee.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate the slowness of the day,
And what I harvest you forgive,
For every petal of return in me as good as what names and renames the stillness in you.