Susan Barba on The Social Distance Reading Series
Susan Barba is the author of geode (Black Sparrow Press, 2020) and Fair Sun (David R. Godine, 2017). She has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo, and she works as a senior editor for New York Review Books.
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.
“Susan Barba’s second book, geode, is rich with shining interiors and tactile relationships, delicate human to delicate earth, small delusions of ownership against wider backdrops of loss and time. Poems acting as guides, helping us navigate and remember, create an intricate overlay of worlds, humans and trees.”
— Naomi Shihab Nye, New York Times Magazine
“With gorgeous incantations, with music that is as memorable as it is piercing, Susan Barba has given us the green-book, the earth-book, the book of justice.”
— Ilya Kaminsky
“Tense and bright as a winter star, Susan Barba’s geode re-orients the senses around the sort of spiritual refreshment I thought we had relegated to nostalgia.”
— Katie Peterson
“Barba’s voice is necessary in this tragic American moment where reactionary forces are at war with science, reason, and the planet. ”
— Peter Balakian
How do you begin a new piece of writing? What conditions help your writing process?
It’s various and mysterious. It begins with a word or phrase, an encounter, something that makes me curious, sticks in my head and won’t let up until I’ve given it my undivided attention. Isolation and silence, separation from the usual busy brain is necessary. Liminal states between waking and sleeping, being in the presence of art or nature, and just sitting still, being without doing, help the process.
What was an early experience that taught you language has power?
I have a poem about this in my first book, Fair Sun. It’s very short so I’ll quote here. The title is To Know Wisdom and Instruction, which are from the Bible, Proverbs 1:2, and were also the first words ever written in the Armenian language (one of my two mother tongues) in 405 AD. The poem is about my first word, careful, and it goes: “Her first word / careful / taught the girl / of care / and danger / in the world / how words / contain / the menace / and the knowledge / years had / yet to reach.”
What poets or writers do you continually go back to?
I read so much and so widely, including for work, that I don’t go back to certain poets and writers often. But they’re there on my bookshelves, patiently waiting.
What is your favorite childhood or adolescent book?
In childhood, nursery rhymes illustrated by Kate Greenaway, Palmer Brown’s Cheerful. In early adolescence, Madeleine L’Engle’s Ring of Endless Light.
What are your thoughts/experiences on social distancing?
As a person who enjoys her solitude, even I am missing being with people outside my “bubble,” as I hear they’re calling it in New Zealand. I’m so grateful to projects like this one that are helping us bridge the distances between us, and I will never take a real live reading for granted again!
Where can we find you? Link to your blog or website:
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.