Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Poetry Chain Gang (Volume 2) | Sam Rasnake

The Black Telephone has five fast questions for poet Sam Rasnake.

BT: When poet Walter Bjorkman suggested I interview you next, he said your work "has inspired [him] with its art and sensibilites." How would you describe your poetry?

SAM: Imagine a stained glass window in a tall house. A rock is thrown, breaking the window into a thousand pieces which fall into the house covering a stairway. I pick up all the pieces I can find, take them to my desk, and begin piecing portions of the window back together– but not as one window, but as a hundred tiny windows. The whole window is there, but now reassembled into something new.

Actually, what’s new is me. I find myself in these many windows.

I’m sure this sounds a bit odd – and yesterday I wouldn’t have described it this way – but this is what came to mind with your question, Michelle. It’s how I feel about my work– at least the work that’s consumed me for the past several years. Most of what I write is connected to the arts in some manner– literature, music, art, photography, cinema. There’s a great filmmaker, Chris Marker, who has a similar approach in his marvelous film La Jetée– his approach to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. I can connect with that: finding the self in art.

BT: Did you read a poem today? If so, which poem?

SAM: I’ve always enjoyed the poetry of Mary Ruefle, and I revisited her marvelous poem “Storm Window” – short and haunting:

She sat writing little poems of mist.
And he in an armchair, reading
blood-red leather novels.
Their three-legged white cat
wandering between them.
Twenty-four champagne glasses
sparkling on the shelf.
Never a one to be broken.
And two stone dogs on either side
of the driveway.
For these reasons
they have gone on precisely,
undetected, for centuries.

The imagery in this piece is so alive, and the ending makes me feel as though I’d been shot into deep space, and turning my head, could see the Earth growing smaller and smaller, but never being lost in my gaze. I feel a marvelous connection with time and literature at the end of Ruefle’s poem.

BT: One of my favorite poem-beginnings is: "That rusty zipper, the Pawcatuck river/fastens Rhode Island to Connecticut down/to the sea" from Leslie McGrath's poem Renewal. Is there a poem-beginning that you absolutely love?

SAM: Oh yes – As soon as I read your response, the first poem that rose into view was Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Moose” and its amazing opening stanzas that are as clear a visual of landscape as can be written – and she did this as one sentence that spans six stanzas:

From narrow provinces

of fish and bread and tea,

home of the long tides

where the bay leaves the sea

twice a day and takes

the herrings long rides,

where if the river

enters or retreats

in a wall of brown foam

depends on if it meets

the bay coming in,

the bay not at home;

where, silted red,

sometimes the sun sets

facing a red sea,

and others, veins the flats'

lavender, rich mud

in burning rivulets;

on red, gravelly roads,

down rows of sugar maples,

past clapboard farmhouses

and neat, clapboard churches,

bleached, ridged as clamshells,

past twin silver birches,

through late afternoon

a bus journeys west,

the windshield flashing pink,

pink glancing off of metal,

brushing the dented flank

of blue, beat-up enamel;

down hollows, up rises,

and waits, patient, while

a lone traveller gives

kisses and embraces

to seven relatives

and a collie supervises.

I realize this passage is long, and I was going to list the first two stanzas, but I couldn’t stop. Bishop’s pen always created a landscape with language that was more than real.

BT: One of my favorite poems written by you is Strange Fruit. In it, you say: "...until the song is through/until the song does her in./She sounds like scars/that bleed over the moon's face..." What made you compare her voice to scars bleeding over the moon's face?

SAM: I’m pleased that you like the poem, Michelle. I wrote this piece some time ago, and I’m not certain of the writing process– but I do remember listening to Holiday sing that powerful song – which became a signature song for her – playing it over and over on my stereo. In my head, when I close my eyes, her voice is the moon.

BT: I'm trying to start a chain, a chain of poets, sort of like a chain gang of poets. Can you please suggest a poet I should ask five fast questions to next?

SAM: Suzanne Frischkorn is a wonderful writer. Very gifted.

Sam Rasnake’s poetry has appeared recently in RICK MAGAZINE, OCHO, Shampoo, FRiGG, Poets/Artists, and BluePrintReview, as well as the anthologies Best of the Web 2009 (Dzanc Books), Deep River Apartments (The Private Press), and BOXCAR Poetry Review Anthology 2. He is the author of one collection, Necessary Motions (Sow’s Ear Press) and two chapbooks – Religions of the Blood (Pudding House) andLessons in Morphology (GOSS183).


  1. Lovely! I love Sam's work. Nice interview.

  2. thanks for this interview, Michelle and Sam! I love the contrast between the fragmented and the whole as Sam describes his poetry. That stained glass image is going to stick with me -- lovely, like everything I read by Sam.