Poet of the Month: Marsha Pomerantz
June 2016

[image Portrait by Gaye Korbet, 2012]Marsha Pomerantz grew up in New York, lived in Israel for twenty years, and now lives in Boston. The Illustrated Edge (poems) was published by Biblioasis in 2011, and poems and essays have appeared in/on Beloit Poetry Journal, berfrois.com, Boston Review, Harvard Review, Parnassus, Poetry Daily, PN Review, Raritan, Salamander, and Verse Daily; one of the essays is forthcoming in Best American Essays 2016. Among her translations from the Hebrew are a novel, short stories, and poems. Support for her work has included two residencies at the MacDowell Colony and a Massachusetts Cultural Council fellowship in poetry. Her manuscript for a second book of poems was a finalist for the National Poetry Series in 2014 and for The Waywiser Press’s Anthony Hecht Prize in 2016, but is so far unpublished.

[ Portrait by Gaye Korbet, 2012 ]

Statement of Poetics

To write, I have to sense the medium I swim in, and for that, enstrangement is required—usually called defamiliarization in English. I learned the word in Hebrew (hazara) many years ago from a Russian professor in Jerusalem: suitably, at a few removes. The Formalist Viktor Shklovsky introduced the concept, ostranenie, in an essay that I intend to read as soon as I finish writing this.

Lots of italics here, tilted tweezers with which I hold a thought while wrinkling my nose slightly. Question: can enstrangement be the literary device it is supposed to be and not a way of life? In some ways it is a willful unknowing, an attempt to regain virginity out of an urge to see—really, to be—anew (“Moor Eeffoc”). Maybe that’s morally risky: the challenge is to unknow without erasing.

Sometimes I try to see/be by quantifying the unquantifiable: homage to science with an emphasis on doubt. Example: “Is the eye less surprised by five deer than by six?” (“Inscriptions for Chinese Paintings”).

Enstrangement is abetted by translation, to and from another language or another medium, yielding something lost (frequent engine of art) and something not quite found. A reminder that life is in any case not quite found. I tried to write a poem about love and, seeking a way in, or a way out, borrowed from music, or at least the instructions composers offer to interpreters; this means I resorted to two languages I don’t know (“How to Love”). I consulted with Italian- and German-speaking friends at the time, but kept forgetting what täppisch meant, so put a crib sheet in the copy of my book that I use for readings, in case I’m ever quizzed.

What to say about ekphrasis, the translation from another medium? Poems deriving from visual art (sometimes nonexistent, like the Chinese paintings) account for a lot of my work. Maybe they give me a way into process that’s less threatening than forebears of the word. I’ve read that writing from visual art is a lazy thing to do, elaborating on a part of life that has already been framed or otherwise disentangled from its surroundings. Not so. A work of art is an artist’s version of the tangle. I’ve started a number of poems by looking out a window, another instrument for framing what is hidden in plain sight. Glass affords a certain amount of protection. But the rare moments of satisfaction come when glass is melted, lifted, shattered: grit comes in on the wind and hassles my marrow, which reluctantly makes a few cells.

With all this enstrangement, the question is: where is home? TBD. (“Fortune.”) Somewhere in my notebooks is a quote from Edmond Jabès, the Egyptian Jewish poet who wrote in French and, when expelled as a result of the Suez Crisis of 1956, went to Paris. “No home but in words” is what I transcribed. I didn’t note which book that’s from, and I don’t think I ever knew the original.


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