Poet Of The Week

Sarah Bridgins

     January 16–22, 2017

Sarah Bridgins’s poems and essays have appeared in Tin House, Buzzfeed, Bustle, the Fanzine, Sink Review, Big Lucks, Two Serious Ladies, Bone Bouquet, Pouch, Thrush and NAP, among other journals. She has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and is the cofounder/curator of the Ditmas Lit reading series with Rachel Lyon.

Making Dinner for Someone Else

I cooked for you even when
you couldn’t eat.
When your body
kept breaking open
and trying to kill you,
I made a sludge
out of lentils and spinach
that was supposed to thicken
your blood,
prove my devotion.

Salmon en papillote,
chicken cacciatore,
Brussels sprouts with black rice.

Now that I’m alone,
I smoke Parliaments
drink 7-11 coffee,
call it lunch.
Buying real groceries
creates a dumb ache,
in a heart that’s so ripe
for your love
it feels rotted.

When a friend comes over,
I make lamb ragu with ricotta,
aware I have nothing to lose.
This could be the best
meal of their life,
and at the end of the night,
I already know
they will leave.

–Originally published in Big Lucks, July 2015.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

I wrote this a couple of years ago. Someone I loved had been dealing with some pretty bad health problems for almost a year and I had been spending a lot of time trying to take care of them in ways that were sometimes helpful and sometimes not. I’m a caretaker by nature, and part of me thought that if I could just do enough, in the form of making meals, running errands, etc., I could fix things and help them get better. I ended up being confronted with the terrifying reality of a health crisis which is that sometimes there’s absolutely nothing you can do to make things okay. This poem was a way for me to deal with those feelings of helplessness.

What are you working on right now?

I just finished putting together my first full-length collection. I lost several close family members over the last few years, including both of my parents, so a lot of the poems are about dealing with death and trauma while still trying to hold onto your personality and maintain a sense of humor.

What’s a good day for you?

I am an old lady so a good day for me involves waking up late and going to bed early. Spending lots of time with the two kittens I recently adopted, Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson. If I’m feeling social, having friends over to drink wine and eat too much cheese. If I’m not feeling social, watching several episodes of the Real Housewives and eating too much cheese by myself.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

I went to college at NYU and moved to the East Village after I graduated because in 2006 it still seemed important to me to live in Manhattan. The apartment was tiny. My room had a loft bed that felt like sleeping in a coffin because it was so close to the ceiling, and the whole place was infested with mice. After a year and a half my roommate and I started looking at apartments in Brooklyn and realized we could get three times the space for the same rent we were currently paying.

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 right in between Kensington and Ditmas Park. I moved here five years ago after getting priced out of Carroll Gardens. I love it. There are all these giant Victorian houses and lots of trees. It feels like living in the suburbs, only not depressing. I’m close to Prospect Park and I also have lots of friends who live within walking distance, which is great.

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

One Friday night over the summer I didn’t have any plans and decided I would hang out in the backyard of a local bar and read a book. After about an hour, a couple of my friends who lived in the neighborhood happened to show up and I ended up spending the rest of the evening catching up with them. I realize that’s not much of a story, but the thing I love most about Brooklyn, and New York in general, is how it’s equally easy to spend time by yourself or with friends and never feel alone. As someone who is prone to loneliness, I really value having the ability here to be simultaneously solitary and surrounded by people. I moved to New York fifteen years ago when I was seventee and my dream of living here has always been to have the feeling of living in a small, close-knit community while also being in the center of this giant city. It took more than a decade, but I finally know enough people here that I can run into friends in my neighborhood and have a night that I didn’t expect. There’s a magic to it that makes me feel like I’m living on Sesame Street. But with alcohol and stories about bad Tinder dates.

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

I don’t know that I feel like I’m part of a poetry community specifically, but I do feel like I’m part of a more general literary community that is incredibly important to me. I met my boyfriend and several of my closest friends through the reading series Derangement of the Senses that used to be at Happy Ending on the Lower East Side and later moved to Le Poisson Rouge. I’m also a member of a wonderful writing group that I’ve been a part of off and on for about seven years. I’ve met some amazing people through it and it’s helped me grow so much not only as a writer but as a person.

My friend Rachel Lyon and I recently launched a reading series at Sycamore Bar in Ditmas Park, largely in an effort to have a greater role in New York’s literary community. I used to work as a literary agent and I really love facilitating connections between artists and exposing writers I love to people who maybe hadn’t heard of them before. It’s been such a fulfilling experience and has given both of us an excuse to reach out to writers we admire.

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

I’m a fan of so many poets who are living or have recently lived in Brooklyn. Tommy Pico, Morgan Parker, Joanna Valente, Lisa Marie Basile, Cynthia Manick, Leigh Stein and Wren Hanks, just to name a few.

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

I’ve never really had any poetry mentors, but I have had some great writing teachers, both in college and at the 92nd Street Y where I took workshops after I graduated from NYU. Georges Foy, Nat Bennett, Sandra Newman and Sigrid Nunez were all amazing. Most of these teachers taught fiction, but I learned so much from them in terms of finding my voice and gaining confidence as an artist.

I wouldn’t call him a mentor, but my boyfriend is a writer who publishes under the name Miracle Jones. His novels and stories are ridiculously great and I find his drive, heart and talent to be really inspiring.

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

I’ve been on a nonfiction kick for the last couple of years, mostly true crime and historical works. I read the first three books in Robert Caro’s Years of Lyndon Johnson series and they just blew me away. When I set out to read them I thought they would be kind of a slog, something that was important to get through, but not necessarily that much fun. Boy was I wrong. They turned out to be absolute page turners to the point where I can’t shut up about them and everyone I know is sick of hearing me talk about how great they are.

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

I was a Communications major in college for some stupid reason rather than an English major so I feel like I’m overdue to read a lot of the classics. Moby Dick, everything by Dostoyevsky and most of Dickens’s novels are all sitting on my bookshelf judging me for never opening them.

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 almost always read one book at a time unless I’m undertaking something massive. A couple years ago, I read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and every few hundred pages I would cut it with a short work of fiction like Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

I tend to plan my books out in advance. This is especially true lately because I’ve been reading a lot of series. I’m currently in the middle of the fourth Harry Potter book. After the election, I asked my boyfriend what I should read and he suggested them because they’re both children’s books and therefore easy to get through and about fascism, which is something that seems relevant right now.

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

I’ve been thinking about writing a series of poems about the body and how grotesque it is. The Mutter Museum of medical anomalies in Philadelphia is maybe my favorite place on earth, and I have this book that’s a collection of Victorian medical illustrations that’s really fascinating. I would like to be able to harness my gross anatomical obsessions into something productive.

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

Going to shows always makes me feel inspired; burlesque, storytelling, poetry, whatever. I often find myself writing out lines on my phone during them and hoping no one thinks I’m being an asshole and just not paying attention.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

I love Coney Island because even with all of the recent renovations there’s still something about it that feels untouched by time. It’s gloriously dirty and tacky to a degree that can be hard to find in the city these days. I was heartbroken to hear that the Morbid Anatomy Museum was closing. The jewelry store Verameat in Brooklyn and the vintage clothing store Olive’s on Court Street are both fun places to browse for things I can’t afford.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate __________ ,
And what I __________ you ______________,
For every _______________ me as good _______________ you.

Writing exercises of all kinds give me a panic attack. Unfortunately this was no exception and I was forced to give up.

Why Brooklyn?

I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I’ve only ever lived in New York and Alexandria, VA where I grew up. With both of my parents gone there’s really no reason for me to go back there, which makes Brooklyn feel even more like home. I also have so many friends here who have become family.