An interview with Tom Snarsky

Tom Snarsky is a special education math teacher at Malden High School in Malden, Massachusetts, USA. He is the author of Threshold, a chapbook of poems published by Another New Calligraphy. He lives in Chelsea, MA with his fiancée Kristi and their two cat children, Niles and Daphne.

How did you begin writing, and what keeps you going?

I remember coming to writing when I was younger partly because I loved how charitable the practice of reading literature seemed to be -- like in high school I spent lots of time on internet forums where everybody wanted to prove everybody else wrong, and literature felt like this strange isthmus where people really believed there was always more to the story, always some new angle or mysterious vantage point that could make a piece of writing cohere and tell us something new about what it means to be human. This is also, partially, what keeps me going in poetry: the idea that someday some reader will be able to make much better sense of something I wrote than I ever could, whether or not they ever choose to articulate that reading outside their own head.

How has the process of putting together a manuscript evolved? How do you decide on the shape and size of a manuscript?

Most of my manuscripts to date have been small collections of poems published as .pdfs or other freely-viewable documents, i.e. here and here and here; assembling these has been largely a process of trial-and-error and intuition, though I've also been grateful to receive helpful feedback on sequencing (and cuts!) from a few kind readers who've been willing to look at my fledgling MSs-in-progress. Assembling a print manuscript feels like much the same process, albeit with slightly higher stakes; my head screams that, if a tree must die for your work, it ought to be worth it. Right now is the first time in my writing life I've been dealing with longer poems and sequences that, if they were to go to print, would run into the triple digits of pages; maybe the .pdf is the best form for something like this, when we already kill as many trees as we do. (Really, these considerations lend themselves well to intuition too.)

Have you noticed any repeated themes or repeated subject matter in your work? What are you currently working towards?

This is a beautiful question! I think sometimes when there's a certain poem or the music of a certain poet in my ear, one thing that happens is I end up trying to write things parallel to that poem or that music. William Bronk was one of the first poets to do this to me, to make me feel like I wanted to write a poem that did something even remotely like what, say, "The Smile on the Face of a Kouros" does so breathtakingly well. In that vein I think I'm always working toward a kind of honest processing of the world as I'm in it, which right now means trying to figure out what's going on with these longer poems and sequences that keep happening in my writing. (I'm also trying to write acrostics inspired by Anna Mendelssohn's gorgeously quirky pamphlet of them.)

What poets have influenced the ways in which you write?

There are so many people whose work I'm very grateful to have read. One of the strongest influences on my writing has to be the work of Ariana Reines, whose A Sand Book is a contemporary masterpiece and who I was infinitely lucky to have as a teacher for a short time when I was in college. I also never would have felt a freedom to write without the spontaneity of Noelle Kocot's poems and the uncanny machinery of Ben Mirov's. I'm sure I owe a tremendous debt, too, to the poets I read early on who were also into math and philosophy, a pair of perniciously academic influences which I used to think might disqualify me from poetry. I was (and continue to be) proved wrong on this by the likes of Liz Waldner, Katy Bohinc, and even Yves Bonnefoy…

You work with both text and image. How do the two genres interact, if at all?

My experience working with images has been fairly limited, but I think there is a special interaction between the commodity-form of the image and the notion of the poem, especially in the here & now of social media -- that is, of the incredible shareability of the poem-as-image. There's also just something really odd about the way the eye works in poetry. A friend told me recently that Louise Glück preferred her poems to be read silently on the page rather than aloud, so the eye could go back, retrace -- I understand that impulse, certainly, and yet...a poem unvoiced feels to me like a poem with a fatal wound.

How important has mentorship been to your work? Is there anyone who specifically assisted your development as a writer?

There's a way in which every book that's ever stuck with me awhile has been a kind of mentor -- Bronk's Life Supports, J. H. Prynne's Poems, Wanda Coleman's Mercurochrome, and Anne-Marie Albiach's Cinq le choeur are all books I've carried around for weeks at a time, sometimes more as comfort objects (to hold) than as collections of poems (to read). Of course, I owe the lion's share of my mentorship debt to actual flesh-and-blood people: it was such a gift to study with Ariana Reines (however briefly), though I bet she'd balk at the Homeric label "mentor" -- and it is such a gift, too, to be able to interact with a wonderful group of poets on Twitter like jo ianni and Kristin Garth, who kindly give their time to read my poems and offer their work for me to read in return. Last and most importantly (another person I met on Twitter!), Kristi Bergner is both willing addressee and gifted poetic challenge-giver -- she once gave me the end words spring, roll, red, socks, nickel, and grading for a sestina -- without whom there'd be a lot fewer poems in my life.

What are you currently working on?

I have two and a half manuscripts living in a state of suspended animation while I do other, more important stuff, like get married. I'm also very happy to be one of the founders of Performance Anxiety, a monthly online reading series that Kristin Garth and I started in June. Our next reading will be July 18th!

Can you name a poet you think should be receiving more attention?

I can't believe how criminally under-read Derek Gromadzki's first book Pilgrimage Suites is. Derek invents a language, then sings in it with a diamond-perfect clarity. I can't wait for Derek's next book, which I think will be about (and of, and for) time. (Also I think it's worth it for everyone to read Mary Oppen, though that might go without saying -- and it's been a few years but I hope no one forgot about Camille Rankine's Incorrect Merciful Impulses.)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.