Poet Of The Week

Marina Blitshteyn

     August 10–16, 2015

Marina Blitshteyn is the author of five published or forthcoming chapbooks: Russian for Lovers (Argos Books); Nothing Personal (Bone Bouquet Books); $kill$ (dancing girl press); Kaddish (Argos Books) and Sheet Music (Sunnyoutside Press). Work can be found in the Berkeley Poetry Review, CutBank, Handsome, 1913, Two Serious Ladies, No, Dear Magazine, the &NOW Awards anthology and Apogee Journal, among others. She works as an adjunct instructor of composition and literature.

Author photo by Liz Dosta


in a parking lot the odds were stacked against me
i lifted a limb off the dump tho, mama said with her help

folks came thru, tried to raise me on unleavened bread
it worked, i paid my dues, mama said with her help

what good’s the hand without the chance of a fist?
mama said they all come up with hand-me-downs

turned her nose up at their gifts, a loan with a price tag
a martyr, she stood as tall as the slabs i stumbled on

at the ceremony a reprieve, my mother the rabbi
often even approving, louder she mimes with her mouth

eggs me to smile more, shoots darts of worry up the stage
before me the scroll’s a blur, mama said we suffer

to undo our own mistakes, mama said we sacrifice
as jews, as women, first and foremost as the insecure

now in a field of needs i scan the crowd to see her
as telling as ever, i’m becoming her ball of knots

her little tics, her sitting in a cold room gnawing at her own skin
the trick is u pick a plot, dress it up with plastic flowers

then everything’s perfect and everyone nods
i’d also turn down an offer of funds, act like i don’t need it

just to see, just to milk that shrug a little longer
mama said the best is not to need people, never ask

love means never having to say ur hungry, just wait
a god will come on a life raft, or dangle a hand off a jet

and ask u if u need a lift, the joke goes u refuse
then shake ur fist at the sky, saying lord why have u forsaken me

–From $kill$, dancing girl press, 2015 (forthcoming).

Tell us about the making of this poem.

I wrote this poem for Melissa Broder’s launch of Scarecrone in 2014. The theme was seven deadly sins and I got pride. I wrote some variations but still had no idea what pride meant so I turned to my origin point, what I always turn to when I don’t understand something about myself. I wrote about my mother, the one time in grade school when a wealthy woman we knew offered to pay my tuition to keep me in private Jewish school and my mother said no. We were refugees and poor and really couldn’t afford it, but I’m interested in that impulse to turn down help. This poem came out on a whim and I’ve been proud of it since.

What are you working on right now?

I’m not really in my writing mind this summer so I’m mostly editing and putting things together. I’m working on a full-length version of $kill$, the manuscript from which pride is pulled, whose chapbook will be out from dancing girl press later this year. And I’m trying to figure out what to do with more formal lyrical poems in a manuscript called A Miss. I’m also dipping into lyric prose (like everyone else) so I’m writing reviews and interviews for The California Journal of Women Writers and trying to write some fragments in something resembling sentences.

What’s a good day for you?

Like a Saturday. But really my nature is pretty bougie: a quiet day—waking up with sun, the smell of coffee, strolling somewhere to read and underline, dinner with friends, movie with bf, some night writing, but also teaching a good class, surviving an emotionally trying day, dancing intensely, eating with family, fucking all night, maybe a beach or a park? Having a sense of myself.

How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in?

Been in Brooklyn since 2012—first in Sheepshead Bay, then Clinton Hill, now Crown Heights, which I adore.

What do you like most about it?

I love hearing Drake waft in from a car down the street, Eastern Parkway is beautiful, love seeing Jewish families strolling together, being so close to the park and museum and library. Never a shortage of coffee haunts. Most of all really appreciate relying on my own feet and public transportation to go somewhere. I grew up in a car town so that’s still really special to me.

Sheepshead Bay was interesting because it forced me to wrestle with my identity as a Soviet Jew, plus the food was affordable and felt like home. Nargis Café is a precious jewel and I’ve dragged friends there from all over town. I can’t recommend it enough.

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

I was on the train last summer, always hovering between moving back to my hometown and trying to live beyond my means in NYC. On the way back into Crown Heights, I saw a young Jewish kid put on tefillin with the help of some Hasidic boys, in front of everyone in the back of the car. They were trying to get the secular kid to come see them and be more religious in general, but he was saying how he never agreed with their proselytizing, their treatment of gays and women, how his spirituality is a personal choice and not a community to conform to. I was really vibing with everything he was saying, everyone else in that car was too, we all exchanged nods and mmhmmms and affirmations. I was like, ok I guess I gotta stick around here, bear witness to these conversations, be there for these moments. It wasn’t good or bad but somewhere in between.

Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?

All alive, all the time—mad love to George Oppen, Louis Zukofsky, the objectivists in general. I’m constantly challenged and inspired by my friends: Liz Clark Wessel is a genius, Iris Cushing is a genius (though both have left Brooklyn for greener pastures); Kirkwood Adams, eagerly anticipating Jay Deshpande’s first book, totally riveted by Montana Ray’s first book, was floored when I heard T’ai Freedom Ford read, Angel Nafis, Cathy Linh Che, s/o to Morgan Parker, Christine Kanownick, Lauren Hunter, MC Hyland, Krystal Languell doing the lord’s work, my homie Isaac Fornarola has been making great work since high school and is now a Brooklyn poet, Liz Dosta is a creative BK goddess, r. erica doyle, Alex Cuff, Emily Brandt, Kiely Sweatt, Amber Galeo, Bianca Stone, Josh & Nalini Edwin, really too many to keep name-dropping and there are so many more.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?

One love: Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop. The only one of its kind. I always go where I find treasures and kindness, and no one beats Jared and Farrah in both.

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

I do like to read and write at home, preferably in the reclining position. Otherwise on one of those benches along Eastern Parkway or more often on the train.

Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?

I always have a good time at Two Saints lately, and of course the Brooklyn Museum, and of course the lovely Brooklyn Library, and of course Prospect Park. Been a real fan of Glady’s on Franklin for a while too, and who can beat tacos at Guero’s.

Last awesome book(s)/poem(s) you read?

Been on that Ferrante kick, feeling like reading fiction for the first time in like seven years, but before that this summer I’ve been obsessed with Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, and before that I was totally in love with Theory, A Sunday from belladonna*. Worth noting I’ve been especially interested in innovative hybrid prose by women writers and have been hunting that down almost exclusively since grad school. Any recs will be appreciated.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate myself for letting go of my body today,
And what I am afraid of I trust you to keep me from,
For every abyss in me as good as all the abysses in you.

If you have time, write a nine-line poem using these end-words (in whatever order) from Jay Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard”: father, Dodger, jack, rob, sin, pen, love, Brooklyn, Biggie.

lord forgive me the sins of my father,
a rich dad, a poor dad, a home brewed dodger,
loner like a rolling stone, a real hit the road jack,
just like him to rid me of my trespasses, first to rob
me of my universal will, all sins being equal, my sin
another’s sin, my whims his only faults too, the slick
     sheen of the pen,
a slice of solitude, everyone’s favorite personality, and
     a handle of untested love,
unfettered, unafraid, extending here to legendary mansions,
     tenements in brooklyn,
no broker fees, no cyclical responsibilities, no ball and
     chain demands, no banes, no biggie.

Why Brooklyn?

Sometimes I ask myself the same question. But I’d really like to stay for as long as I can scrape by.