FORWARD ARTS FOUNDATION: When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?
RACHEL HADAS: I probably started writing poetry aged 9 or so; I loved the sound of poems and I imitated them. I loved all kind of books as a child but I was never a storyteller. The lateral lyric leap, and the music of poetry, appealed – and still do.
FAF: Please talk about your development as a writer of poetry. Tell us when you first felt you were a poet and how it went from there.
RH: Poetry has always been for me a way of negotiating the divide between inside (memories, emotions, dreams) and outside (the weather of the world) – as well as a way to make sense of experience and also just to record it. Many of my poems, I’m coming to realize, function almost as almanac or journal entries (here’s the time of year, here’s how I am feeling) or as records of something not easily captured in a photo (my son is learning to talk; I’m mourning a death). James Merrill, one of my favorite poets, writes beautifully of “the life-raft of language.” Poems can float us on the sea of life. But in order to be worthy of public attention and understanding, poems also need to be able to float free of the private events that may have occasioned them.
FAF: Please tell us about the genesis of this poem. Is it part of a collection or sequence? Where can a reader find more by you?
RH: “Roosevelt Hospital Blues” was written, or at least drafted, early in the summer of 2013 largely IN my Roosevelt Hospital room. I’d written one short, dark, bluesy poem maybe six years earlier, but this felt new. My life felt new. 2013 had started out with a broken wrist, followed by a consuming love affair, a trip to Haiti, and now this sudden illness. I had to go straight from the doctor’s office to the Emergency Room, it was rush hour, it was raining, there were no taxis, I took a pedi-cab. In my lonely room high above Ninth (or was it Tenth?) Avenue, the poem, as I recall, almost wrote itself. (I’ve always liked writing in bed.) It was such a kick when TLS published it, though some friendly readers reacted with alarm (are you OK?), as if my illness, the poem’s composition, and its publication had all happened the same week. Not quite. I am now quite healthy and blissfully married to my beloved. The poem is a record of an astonishing season. I’m so honored and happy that it was shortlisted! I should add that Alan Jenkins at TLS did a great job editing the poems – it’s still quite long (for me) but tighter than it was.
FAF: Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?
RH: It’s hard to single out favorite poets: where to begin? Robert Frost, Shakespeare, Keats, Sappho, George Herbert, James Merrill, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Elizabeth Bishop, Cavafy, John Clare, Christina Rossetti, and the list could and should go on and on.
FAF: What’s next for you as a poet?
RH: I’m working on verse translations of Euripides’ two Iphigenia plays; and I’m contemplating my next collection or collections: either a slim volume of love poems and a separate book of more literary poems, or perhaps some amalgam of the two. I also have an immense pile of uncollected poems that is beginning to pluck at me and ask for some overdue attention, the way my elderly cat does.
FAF: What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?
RH: Advice to poets: read! read! read! And don’t be afraid to engage in unpoetic activities, and don’t be afraid of writer’s block. It’s all grist for the mill. Getting together with others in a writing group so you have an audience works well for some people. There’s no recipe. Poetry continues to flourish because it has so many ways of entering people’s lives and their hearts, of nourishing and being nourished by all
kinds of circumstances.