Susan Tepper: “And here is the stair… the stair which gave up / the rest of the house sometime ago.”
Sam, I excerpt here the beginning of your poem “From This Side of the House.” The first poem in the Monday Chat series. All your work has such tremendous inner life. I often feel you cross over into a different dimension to put out what you do, yet somehow you manage to ground it.
Sam Rasnake: I like your term “inner life,” Susan. I have to say, though, I’ve never viewed my writing in terms of a “different dimension,” though a number of people have commented in a similar way. They may not have used that exact term, but I’ve had some of my writing described as trance-like and other worldly. I would say that your comment of “different dimension” is accurate. I’m just not aware of it or concerned with it as I write. It’s just there. It’s not something I work toward, but work from. It’s my writing voice. That’s how I begin – in voice. I’ve always been drawn to writers who approach their art from this other place – writers such as Jelaluddin Rumi, Hart Crane, William Blake, Jane Hirshfield. I really connect with them.
I can see how “From This Side of the House“ reflects this different dimension or other place. The poem begins in the middle of something – something that’s not clear, not specified in the poem, and the reader doesn’t really learn the how and why as the piece closes. The ending carries no real resolution. That might be disappointing to some. My writing, my poetry in particular, isn’t about information. It’s more about atmosphere and feeling – and voice. Maybe it’s the voice that grounds the work.
Susan: In this poem the stair, for me, is in part a living thing. Perhaps an appendage. One that finally becomes too weak, too exhausted to hold on. The way the body gives up after time. But it is also a stair, in the true sense of separating from the house by rot and time. Would you say that separation is a theme here?
Sam: Separation in various forms – relative to things, time, relationships, family – is at work in the piece. Yes. I’m thinking of certain words or phrases: forgotten, withered, stump, five colors of paint, the dead, the colic, the missed doctor – that show this. Also, the window is left behind.
Susan: The window is left behind. That could be a poem unto itself. I love how the window is used here, as a vehicle for watching through and being watched. This poem is intensely filmic. I can conjure up at least a half dozen plots for a movie. The house feels mystically charged, and I feel as though I have been in this house. Do you feel that you know this house in a physical sense of having been in it, for real or in dreams?
Sam: That could easily be a poem. Windows frequent my writing – and its use here might allow or enhance the filmic aspect of the piece. The writing is quite visual in its focus – very image-driven.
The model for the house is real – in a state of near complete dilapidation. My mother lived in this house for a short time when she was very young. The actual landscape and house – in my mind – are quite haunting. I carry this place with me. The poem isn’t about that house, but it’s represented in the writing.
Susan: Ah, I sensed it very close to you. I live in an old house and wouldn’t have it any other way. I like the idea of who lived here before me, their histories, their happiness and sorrows. I feel them in the ethos of my house.
You bring all these things to the poem: “the yard for each other or the moon / lovers with young bodies waiting / to discover or to be discovered / lovers with old bodies / waiting, who nursed the colic / who listened to the radio / ”
There is an enormous amount of life here in this not particularly long poem. What I admire so much about your work, Sam, is your ability to present a huge picture of what exists in the true physical sense, and is folded into the metaphysical, without going on for page after page. Would you call yourself a metaphysical poet?
Sam: Writing – poetry, as well as fiction – that moves toward paradox or juxtaposition has my eye and ear. In terms of rhythms – a metaphysical poet. Absolutely. I do strive for the language – the sound – to create the world of the poem. That may be more important than anything else in the writing. I’m much more concerned with sound than with meaning.
I appreciate your comment about my writing – content and style. Thanks. There are layers at work. When writing, I’m not always certain of the success of those layers and their connections, but I will say that I’ve learned – or I’m learning – to trust the voice of the writing. I rarely know where it’s headed, but I do like the arriving.
Susan: Yes, as you say: “the language – the sound – to create the world of the poem.” You do this flawlessly.
Read “From This Side of the House“ by Sam Rasnake
Monday Chat is a bi-weekly series in which Susan Tepper has a conversation with a Fictionaut writer about one of his or her stories. Susan is Assistant Editor of Istanbul Literary Review, fiction editor of Wilderness House Literary Review, co-author of new novel What May Have Been, and hosts FIZZ, a reading series at KGB Bar.