Poet Of The Week

Sarah V. Schweig

     November 25–December 1, 2013

Sarah V. Schweig is the author of the chapbook S (Dancing Girl Press, 2011). Her poems and reviews have appeared in Black Warrior Review, BOMB Magazine, Boston Review, Bushwick Sweethearts, Gulf Coast, Maggy, Painted Bride Quarterly, Publishers Weekly, Western Humanities Review, Verse Daily and Wag’s Revue, among others. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia and Columbia University, where her manuscript was the recipient of the David Craig Austen Memorial Award. Previously a 2012 Emerging Poet Resident at Poets House, a 2010 Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and a 2010 Ruth Lilly Fellowship finalist, she currently works as a Senior Writer at a criminal justice think-tank in Manhattan, and lives in Brooklyn. Follow her at sarahvschweig.blogspot.com.

After After Catullus

Tell the mister
               how he’ll miss her.

Dismantle those districts,
               gone lost, gone diseased,

& soothe soothsayers
               in distances uneasy,

grease the brakes
               in junkyard corollas,

their sparkplugs spent,
               their pedals like pistils

of ache & feast. So tell
               the mister, I say, how

he’ll miss her, “The one
               he loved, the last one

left,” who sleeps in car-
               fuls of careful cut petals,

who stilts & cracks their
               wary Stradivarius.

–From S, Dancing Girl Press, 2011.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

On a balcony in Manhattan in the spring of 2008, a friend read Catullus’s Poem 11 to me in Latin and English.

After, I wrote a poem called “After Catullus.”

“After After Catullus” mirrors “After Catullus,” which mirrors Catullus’s Poem 11. “After After Catullus” is the only poem in which I quote myself. (Oof.)

“After After Catullus” is also part of a sequence of poems I was writing just after I moved to New York. These poems—the S poems—are chiefly in the third person, because at that time I felt I couldn’t justify speaking from the “I.” Through writing about the character Miss S, and in a different voice, I could tell a new truth I hadn’t already told with “I.” I also didn’t always go by Sarah, so I’m sure that factors into the invention of the S character—and is something that would give psychotherapists a field day.

In any case, I think the making of this poem embodies how the I—how any I—inevitably does the self in different voices, so to speak.

What are you working on right now?

—I have no earthly idea. (New poems.)
—Finding language. (And cutting it up.)
—Learning language. (German: slowly, poorly.)
—Putting myself out there. (Sending my manuscript, The Hour of Great Contempt, into the void.)
—Trying to understand Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.
—Also I’d really like to get my cat to walk on a leash.

What’s a good day for you?

—I talk to my mom, who lives far away. I talk to my brother, who lives farther.
—Someone makes me laugh or I make someone laugh.
—I use language in a way that is at once inventive and honest.
—I’m just relentless enough.

How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in? What do you like most about it?

I’ve lived for over four years in Brooklyn, but I’ve lived in New York City for just over six. I started my Brooklyn life in Boerum Hill and now live on the south edge of Park Slope, and I like far too much about it to enumerate except by negation, so let’s say basically everything except how it’s still not exempt from the human condition.

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

Any normal day, i.e.: Obama’s helicopter is landing in Prospect Park, the F train isn’t running for no discernible reason, and the coffee shop ran out of coffee beans, and the barista shrugs and says “Mercury is in retrograde,” so you get cold brew on the first real cold day of the year and sit at a tiny table and read one man’s attempt to take down metaphysics.

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

I’ll keep this simple and go with George Oppen, who lived here some of the time.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?

Mellow Pages, because it isn’t a store and has everything anyone could ever want.
Terrace Books (formerly Babbo’s), because it’s tiny enough to be adorably quaint, but large enough to hold The Human Condition (Arendt’s, that is).
—And an unofficial outpost of Brooklyn—in my opinion—on the Upper East Side, Michael Seidenberg’s Brazenhead Books, because it’s a widely known secret and there’s whiskey-fueled conversation.

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

—Greenwood Cemetery.
The Double Windsor.
—Coney Island.
—Prospect Park.
—Other people’s apartments.
—My fire escape.

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

—All of the above.
Bar Toto.

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

In the Futurity Lounge/Asylum for Indeterminacy by Marjorie Welish
Self-Portrait as Missing Person by Justin Boening
Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein
Fugue for Other Hands by Joseph Fasano
“Big Candles” by Melissa Broder
“Wrens Hidden in Paisley” by Genevieve Burger-Weiser
“A Week of Symbolic Replacements” by Joe DeLuca
“You Have Harnessed Yourself Ridiculously to This World” by Lucie Brock-Broido

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

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

Can I steal the one Danniel Schoonebeek and I made together?

Why Brooklyn?

—Because four years ago I was living out my lease in grad student housing in Morningside Heights and was no longer a grad student.
—Because I had no job, no lover, and no plans, save writing.
—Because I was otherwise unattached.
—Because the poet Jason Labbe once told me to.
—Because the poet Brittany Perham told me it would all work out.
—Because the poet Dawn Marie Knopf was moving back to San Francisco and vacating the windowless room the size of a closet where she’d been living, on St. Marks, between 3rd and 4th, back when the station was called Atlantic-Pacific and not for a stadium named for a bank.
—Because I fell in love with the man who lived a wall away from me.
—Because we fell apart.
—Because after, he still moved my belongings up three flights of stairs into the efficiency apartment I still call home.
—Because since then I’ve watched time pass by how high the new tower gets in my window.
—And because the people I love still don’t believe in heaven.