Category Archives: Books

Poet Cynthia Cruz on Madness, Bodies and Bodies of Work

I was fortunate enough to be able to study with poet Cynthia Cruz at Rutgers -Newark while completing my MFA. She’s a generous teacher and her poetry rattles me in the best way possible. (Her first collection Ruin is what I consider to be “required reading.”) Anticipating the release of two new poetry collections, Cruz sat down with Lisa Wells from The Rumpus for an amazing interview. Here’s an excerpt:

Lisa Wells: Can you talk about the madness in your work? Or is it religiosity operating there? Some marriage of the two?

Cruz: To begin with: we are all mad, it’s simply a matter of where we are on that continuum. My mind is what saved me, as a child. Thank God, I was able to vanish into the world of my mind. But, conversely, it can also be a dangerous thing. The mind can play tricks. Was Joan of Arc mad? Simone Weil? Glenn Gould? Where’s the line between bravery and honesty and genius and madness? Sometimes it overlaps. I suffered from anorexia for many years (from the age of eleven) and that is quite certainly a kind of madness. My mind told me things that quite simply were not true. I had to fight against my mind.

And then, as you say, there is the spiritual. Back to Joan of Arc and Simone Weil: mystics or mad women? Virginia Woolf? Was she “mad” or driven mad? Finally, I am not content with the idea that people who suffer from madness of any kind ought to be marginalized. Nearly everyone I know in New York City is on one kind of medication or another for anxiety or depression or what have you, so again, it’s a matter of where we fall on the continuum which is really, in the end, just luck.

And later in the interview, Cruz gives a response that I’ve been reading and re-reading.

I was anorexic for many years (from eleven years old well into adulthood), and it has not gone unnoticed that the entire “project” of anorexia is not dissimilar to the act of making poetry. Both are a kind of miming, a kind of spectacle, a way of enacting how one feels. With anorexia, I, for one, was, of course without being conscious of it, performing as a means to show the world how I felt. I wanted both to be noticed (I felt invisible) and I wanted to not be seen (I felt I was too intense.) Anorexia served its purpose. It was a deliberate translating of experience, a means of communication: by compressing all my feelings, which were overwhelming for me, I made a kind of porcelain figurine of myself. I became a symbol, a code. Anorexia was a whirring machine into which I poured everything and, as a result, through anorexia, I was able to survive these feelings and experiences. With poetry, I do much the same thing: it is also a whirring machine I put all my thoughts, feelings, and experiences into. I compress and revise compulsively (again, like anorexia, a kind of compulsive repetition and deletion of parts of the self {the self being poem or self}) until I have a perfect box of words that then stand in for experience, feeling, thought, a kind of perfect diorama, a world in miniature. I would not be alive today were it not for both anorexia and poetry.

Read the interview in its entirety here.

Most Recent Reading Diary Entries

by Guido Mocafico

April 10, 2012 

April 11, 2012 

April 12, 2012

April 13, 2012

  • Sula by Toni Morrison

April 14, 2012

  • Sula by Toni Morrison

April 15, 2012

April 16, 2012

April 17, 2012

Reading Diary: Day 7 -16

Sorry for the delay. I’m just getting over a nasty stomach virus that owned me for the last week. Also, I’ve decided that trying to record every news article I come across will in fact will be the death of me. Seeing as how I’d prefer to be eternally youthful, just assume that up to date on current events thanks to publications like Mother Jones, Think Progress, New York Times, The Economist, etc.

Day 7: March 31, 2012

  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Day 8: April 1, 2012

Day 9: April 2, 2012

Day 10: April 3, 2012 

  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Day 11: April 4, 2012

Day 12: April 5, 2012

Day 13: April 6, 2012

Day 14: April 7, 2012

Day 15: April 8, 2012

Day 16: April 9, 2012 

Briefly: Kevin Prufer On the Uses of Narrative

by Joeri Bosma

Every year at the AWP book fair, I happen across a poetry collection that was published several years before and I’m outraged (outraged! I tell you) that it has taken me so long to encounter this poet’s work. Last year it was Rough Cradle by Betsy Sholl. This year, I’ve consider calling several friends and leaving threatening voice messages regarding the fact that nobody thought to say “Saeed, Kevin Prufer’s work is stunning. You need to read everything he’s written and then get some of his lines tattooed on your forearm in Palatino font.” Seriously, National Anthem is painfully beautiful and isn’t that all I’ve ever wanted from a poetry collection? The mere thought of reading his most recent collection makes me want to moonwalk.

Anyway, expect that I’ll be mentioning Prufer quite often from here on out. Let’s start with a quote from his micro-interview for the Kenyon Review, shall we?

I’m not uninterested in communicating “emotional concepts” – but I like to imagine that poetry is also a very subtle, powerful vehicle for the communication of ideas that might extend beyond what is felt.  I like the notion that we know who we are (as individuals, as members of a larger society, as part of a culture) through our interaction with narrative and our imposition of narrative on our lives—and that poetry might participate in this.

Confessions of a Bookaholic, or What I Bought at AWP

“To wish to be spectacular / like an unlit match imagining to burn…” – Susan B. A. Somers-Willet

by Rook Floro

To wish to be spectacular


like an unlit match imagining to burn

or the spent match remembering its burning:

want flying over its pale wooden body

all acetylene brightness and rough sound –

a dense limb fearless

in knowing the flame, knowing its desire

equals its consumption,

use to uselenessness in the motion

of a body made ash with abandon.


The matches in the fold-over book all agree

it is the most beautiful thing

– from Quiver by Susan B. A. Somers-Willet


Words to Write By: Jonathan G. Silin, 1995

by Todd Chilton

I once believed the work of advocacy was the work of picket lines and protests, sit-ins and street theater, public hearings and private lobby efforts. Now I realize that the work of advocacy is also the work of the word — our talking and teaching, our writing and witnessing, our texts and testimonies.

from Particular Voices edited by Robert Giard