July 8–14, 2019
Talia Bloch is the author of the poetry collection Inheritance, published in 2018 by Gold Wake Press. Her work has appeared in Copper Nickel, Pleiades, Poetry International, Prairie Schooner, Southeast Review, the Southern Review and elsewhere. She was awarded an Editors Prize for Emerging Poets by Pleiades. Bloch’s essays and feature stories have been published in periodicals such as Aufbau, the Brooklyn Rail, the Forward and Tablet. She has worked as a journalist, editor and teacher and translates from German.
Author photo by Caroline Earp
From the Chorus of Rain and Birdsong
Shall I marry you? You and almost you.
Shall I marry you, your face turned toward me
across the morning light? From the chorus
of rain and birdsong, I call your name:
you and who is perhaps you, your face
swimming up to the surface of the still-gray light,
your arms full of sleep’s soft flowers.
All night I have watched your form
rising, move behind the bed, rising
to where I cannot see,
rising to take the trouble from my sleep,
the burden of my waking.
You are the hero of my waking and in my waking
I have made a dream of you, a dance of you,
you and almost you, wishing
you would be what you could not be.
Once you said, I have suffered so much from desire.
The white blossoms hang heavy with rain
and your eye is endlessly forgiving,
but what will you ask of me tomorrow?
What that I cannot give?
—From Inheritance, Gold Wake Press, 2018.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
This poem was written in a place that has a rainy season and a dry season, about a person who was far away. I’m not sure why I am mentioning this, but somehow it seems important. The poem also takes some inspiration from two heartbreakingly beautiful lines in the Leonard Cohen song “Famous Blue Raincoat”:
Yes, and thanks for the trouble you took from her eyes.
I thought it was there for good, so I never tried.
There is something about waking up and hearing the birds and the rain and recalling vaguely how your sleep was haunted by what troubles you when you are awake. And then knowing there is someone in your life who can ease that trouble. That person gives you something no one else can. Yet, at the same time, something about who you are makes it impossible for you to remain with that person. So there is something that separates you even when you are together.
At first I tried to write this poem without asking questions, but in the end, there seemed no way to write it without the questions. There was no resolution, just yearning.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on new poems. Ones with a different trajectory than those in my first collection. I am also turning to some prose.
What’s a good day for you?
A good day for me begins with a good night’s rest. It includes time and quiet to write, as well as time to read and maybe to draw. It includes a long walk, preferably in the park or in nature. It includes time to stop and observe. A good day is when I learn something new and intriguing about the world, especially a scientific fact or a new finding. It also includes coffee or a meal with a close friend or a long phone chat with a friend I have not spoken with in some time. At the end of the day there should still be time left to see a good movie. Most likely, a good day has more than twenty-four hours.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
I grew up in the Bronx. Once I moved away for college, I lived outside New York for a number of years, moving about various cities in the US and abroad. Then, one day, after having been displaced from where I was living and working, I decided to move back to New York. A friend of a friend who lives in Brooklyn had a room available in her house. So I moved in. She and I became friends. And Brooklyn and I became friends. And I’ve stayed. There is so much to love about Brooklyn from the architecture to the green spaces to the many diverse cultures to the food and cultural offerings. But Bronx, if you’re listening, I still love you too!
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 have lived in Windsor Terrace right near the border with Kensington for over seven years. It’s quiet and green and tucked away, which I like. The whoosh of the Prospect Expressway is constant background music. I used to live in Greenpoint. Greenpoint has more to offer in terms of shopping, restaurants, cafés, art spaces, etc. It’s a very busy and happening place. And constantly changing. Here in Windsor Terrace the pace of life is slower and rather relaxed for New York. The restaurants and cafés in Windsor Terrace and the surrounding area tend to be homey with very good food. There is a great diversity of cultures and ages, especially as one goes south. The sidewalks are wider and less crowded, and people are apt to saunter—rather than rush—down the streets with their children, grandchildren, dogs. We could use a few more grocery stores, however.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
I think some experiences that others might describe as Brooklyn experiences I would think of as New York experiences. But here is something: I got married on the Brooklyn Bridge. My husband and I had two weddings and the first one, attended by just three people other than ourselves and the officiant, was on the Brooklyn Bridge. It was winter and there had been a snowstorm just a couple of days before. Afterward, we had hot chocolate at an ice cream parlor on the Brooklyn side right near the base of the bridge.
What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?
A poetry community means meeting other poets and writers and being able to hear and read what others are writing. Brooklyn certainly offers that. It means having the possibility to share work with close poet friends. But for me, a poetry community also extends beyond poets and writers to those who are outside the literary world. I am sustained by this world, as well, and to me it is also part of poetry.
Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.
Delmore Schwartz and Charles Reznikoff, both born in Brooklyn, have been important to me. As have Walt Whitman and Hart Crane. But I am not quite sure who belongs to the category of Brooklyn poet. I associate Ocean Vuong with Brooklyn because he went to Brooklyn College. Ladan Osman lives in Brooklyn now. As does Kamilah Aisha Moon. These are some contemporary poets whose work is definitely important to me. I am sure there are others I am forgetting.
Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?
I have had some wonderful teachers. Especially Allen Grossman, who probably came closest to being a mentor. He led me to talk to people. Elizabeth Spires and Peter Sacks were also very important teachers. Much of my poetry mentoring, however, has come through reading other poets. The Romantics represented in poetry anthologies on my parents’ shelves that I used to read as a child. Lyric poets of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, writing in English and other languages, who have much to teach about intensity and control, imagery and form. And poets of the past five decades or more who are able to use a more colloquial, narrative voice with a great deal of immediacy.
Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.
There are a number of recent poetry collections that impress me with how precisely and movingly they capture the concerns we face today as a nation and as a species. But for this question, I will turn to some prose. I am reading The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. I have been reading this book slowly and carefully, because the way Roy builds the story to its inevitable tragic end is so absolutely and masterfully devastating that I am afraid to finish the book and find out exactly what happens. I am also reading Jorge Luis Borges’s Charles Eliot Norton lectures, collected under the title This Craft of Verse. They are incredible. Borges speaks of poems and writing like a master speaks of his craft rather than like a critic trying to measure or validate it. There is an unmistakable passion and aliveness.
What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a book of which I have only read snippets. It is sitting on a shelf waiting for me to return to it and read it in its entirety. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen is another book that I haven’t read yet, but would like to read.
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 am a dipper. I dip in and out of several books at once to start. Then when one of those books grabs me, I will focus on reading that book alone. This certainly applies to fiction and nonfiction. With poetry I may continue reading several books at once for longer before I settle on a particular one. I prefer physical books. Holding them in my hands. Turning the pages. Putting them in my bag to read somewhere else. I usually don’t take notes, but for essays and nonfiction I’m an enthusiastic underliner.
What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?
I’d like to try a sequence based on a particular topic from another discipline that explores the human experience, most likely something scientific.
Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I used to like reading and writing in cafés, but lately I find them too distracting and noisy. Writing on a moving train is always very nice.
What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?
Prospect Park. Prospect Park. Did I mention Prospect Park? BAM. Cortelyou Road. Kings Highway. The BQE (haha, just kidding). The other place my husband and I got married in Brooklyn, which is located in Greenpoint. The many beautiful residential blocks in Brooklyn across neighborhoods. Some amazing restaurants and cafés.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate the possibilities and the possibilities of discovery,
And what I might find might be different from what you might find,
For every new thing in the world you show me as good, there will be something for me to show you.
Because so many make a home here from all over the world. Because it should remain that way.