Rosebud Ben-Oni on The Social Distance Reading Series
Rosebud Ben-Oni is the winner of the 2019 Alice James Award for If This Is the Age We End Discovery, forthcoming in 2021, and the author of turn around, BRXGHT XYXS (Get Fresh Books, 2019). Her poem “Poet Wrestling with Angels in the Dark” was commissioned by the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City. Find her at 7TrainLove.org
In the wake of book event cancellations due to COVID-19, this pop-up series is designed to offer poets a platform for launching new collections of poems. Stay tuned for a new reading each Wednesday and Sunday.
In turn around BRXGHT XYXS, Rosebud Ben-Oni opens by summoning Matarose—her alter-ego “muse on roller skates”—a wildly original voice that channels K-pop, hip hop, and the intersectional mestiza soul of the entire borough of Queens to create a sound-driven howling lyric paean—an ecstatic queer broken love-song that’s equal parts Bonnie Tyler and bible, Prince and prayer, and 100% pure desire. Ben-Oni’s poems conjure fierce feminist magic to create a simultaneous ode and lament of a book that reminds us we are the sum of all the parts of our selves: our roots and contradictory loves, all the things we’re born into and out of, the corporeal experiences we only sometimes choose—and she brings it all home with power, humor, grace, and lines like this: “This is my blood and this / my body this time / you won’t betray me / I am your kingdom come.”
Mercy, these poems will reawaken a wilderness you swore you’d lost the map to. Ben-Oni is doing sacred work here, strutting across the asperous terrain of our modern world with a queer femme sovereignty that intoxicates and heals; at the center of each poem, a fragrant mosh pit. These are the ruthless texts we bitches deserve—poems that drive their readers into feral ascension—until the claws can’t be pulled back in.
— Rachel McKibbens
Rosebud Ben-Oni is an incomparable poet with a voice like no one else. Her poetic work hails from the crossroads of countries and culture, tongues and taboo. Ben-Oni’s poetic work hails. At play is a potent poetics of vortices of word and act, love y Justicia. She speaks to Latinidad in “having hope/ in our pop-up whit of the world…./ to never having really left Jerusalem…./ To the hours we (make) horses between nightfall/ and war…” Turn around. BRXGHT XYXS in the house!
—Lorna Dee Cervantes
How do you begin a new piece of writing? What conditions help your writing process?
It’s changed throughout the years. Often, an idea for a single poem just catches in my head, wiggles its way in and won’t stop clanging pots, off-key kazoo, pushing a joey out of its pouch. I’m the joey. I keep some of the wrong (not wrong, but off-color, a bit brittle sharp) notes. With the series I’m working on now, The Atomic Sonnets, that came out of a deep love for chemistry that began in my youth, when I’d write down the names, atomic number and properties of each element on flashcards, only then to add stories about them in the blank space left. Those stories never left me, so with the series, I just give them more wings and harpoon, more flounce, more glister. (I’ve said this in other interviews, but Krypton is my favorite element. It’s just so wild.)
What was an early experience that taught you language has power?
Well, as a Jew, poetry itself has been my home. I loved Torah and studying at my father’s makeshift lectern at home. The rocking back and forth, and getting lost in the words, their numerical values which revealed more secrets and even more questions. But as a child I also had a lot of questions about Torah, and rarely were they answered in a way that satisfied me. So I began to rewrite those stories. For instance, I had a lot of empathy for Cain that made me, um, very unpopular in Hebrew school. I still have that empathy. There’s a poem in turn around, BRXGHT XYXS that reimagines myself as Cain, and ties in the stories of the U.S.-Mexican border where my mother’s family hails from, where I spent my childhood. It’s one way for me to see that place as home, through poetry, through someone like Cain.
What poets or writers do you continually go back to?
How much time do you have? I mean… here’s an abridged version: it’s been Lorna Dee Cervantes, Pat Mora, Norma Cantu, Yaakov Shabtai, Sholem Aleichem, Issac Bashevis Singer, Edmond Jabes, Paul Celan, Guillaume Apollinaire, Haruki Murakami. Contemporary poets whose work really gets me in the heart are Dorothy K Chan, Jasminne Mendez, Leslie Contreras Schwartz, Carolina Ebeid, Lupe Mendez, Jihyun Yun, Ruben Quesada, Darrel Alejandro Holnes, Roberto Carlos Garcia, Lynn Melnick, Bakar Wilson, Chelsea Dingman, Jason Koo— Jason is hilarious and his loves poems are wonderful. I know I’m running out of space here, but one more: writer Gabby Bellot. Read Gabby Bellot.
What is your favorite childhood or adolescent book?
That’s a hard one. I really loved the stories of Issac Bashevis Singer, which I read with my Aba. And the Hebrew poet Rahel.
What are your thoughts/experiences on social distancing?
It’s very hard. I have an autoimmune condition that makes it best for me to stay put as much as possible, but I also have a very understanding person in my life, my B, who goes out and takes pictures of the all flowering trees blooming so I can see Spring here in Queens. Yesterday, after two week of my not leaving the apartment at all, we went outside together; I wrote about that experience here. I was very defiant and took off my protective glove by the end of the walk. I wanted to feel his hand in mine, as it’s early Spring. I needed to feel his skin on mind in early Spring. (And yes, we washed our hands thoroughly when we came in.)
Where can we find you? Link to your blog or website:
I’m at 7trainlove.org – named after the 7 Train, because I love the 7 Train, and might be the only New Yorker to consistently love the train even when the local suddenly turns express, without announcement, and passes all stops, until you’re at Last Stop, Flushing. So if you take my train, give yourself time to get to where you are going, but enjoy the views from the elevated, outside tracks where you can see quite a bit of Queens and Manhattan too. I hope to ride the subway again very soon, and groan along with everyone else when it, once again, stops between stations, without, again announcement or any seemingly real reason other than— well, it’s the 7.
The Social Distance Reading Series
Brought to you by The Vermont School and Green Mountains Review
We’re thrilled to host The Social Distance Reading Series, a collaboration between Green Mountains Review and The Vermont School poets. In the wake of book event cancellations due to COVID-19, this pop-up series is designed to offer poets a platform for launching new collections of poems. At this point, we are focusing on collections by poets whose book events have been cancelled between January through May 2020.
Stay tuned for a new reading each Wednesday and Sunday.
–Didi Jackson, Major Jackson, Kerrin McCadden, and Elizabeth Powell, series curators.
–Kylie Gellatly, editorial assistant, interviewer.