Featured Poet Phoebe Salzman-Cohen Interviewed
Tell us about your poems.
It’s hard for me to talk about my writing, mainly because don’t know what to say. I guess they’re just ways for me to explore people I know — or imagine — and things/places I’ve seen. They often include things that are partially true, which has gotten me into trouble.
In a way, I feel like writing gives me power, because it’s a way to turn the way I think into something that can affect what other people think and feel (if it works).
I think sometimes when people try to describe their own poetry, the description turns into a poem itself… I’ve never felt comfortable trying to do that. I think poetry should speak for itself. (Although I do admire people who can.)
Ultimately, there’s nothing very poetic about how I feel about my poetry. I just know that it’s what I use to explain myself, to understand people around me, and to try to create something worthwhile.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing stories since I was very little, but I got much more into poetry when I was around 12 or 13. I started going online and meeting people who helped me, and since then it’s become pretty important to me.
Do you have any publications to your name? What’s the next stage for your work?
Well, I’ve been in Read This! I’m also involved in a wonderful underground newspaper at my school, for which I get to write some slightly subversive stuff. I haven’t really been published in many places, as of now. I’m more concerned with improving my writing than publishing it — although the two might be fairly closely connected.
What do you think is your biggest poetic achievement to date?
I think it’s probably being asked to read poetry at a show my friend was having in his backyard. (This happened a few months ago) I admire him very much and it was cool for it to be reciprocated in that way.
It was my first poetry reading (ever), which was pretty exciting.
(It might have also been because it was a little poetic in itself.)
What’s the best thing about writing poetry? And the worst?
The worst thing about writing poetry is probably when I’m not able to write it… when I’m stuck, I tend to get fairly frustrated and upset, which clouds my already iffy judgement.
The best thing is the feeling I get when I manage to connect one thing to another in a way that I think makes sense and also sounds good. When I’m satisfied with something, it’s absolutely wonderful.
Got any suggestions for young, upcoming poets?
Since that’s what I’d consider myself, I guess, this is also advice to myself.
– Although it’s important to be able to take constructive criticism and improve your work, don’t let yourself be hurt by what other people say. There are some people who, although they mean well, aren’t always worth listening to.
– Read a lot. Not just poetry, and not just novels. Learn as much as you can about everything you can, and don’t be afraid to learn from someone else.
– Notice things– notice things around you, things about people you’re with, things about yourself, etc.
– Don’t get caught up in what’s “accepted” or in what seems cool. Don’t feel obligated to conform to what you see. (But as I said before, learning from other people is important.)
– Enjoy yourself! Writing isn’t worth it if you torture yourself over it.
Who/what influences your poetry?
I read all the time, and not just poetry (although I do read a lot of it). I love stories that make me both think and feel, and that’s something I work towards when I write. I think the people I’m around and the places I go are almost as important as what I read, because that gives me something I want to say.
I also read a lot of graphic novels (um, comics), and the ones I like the most often read like combinations of a good movie and a good poem. I’ve been trying to work towards that feeling for a while — squeezing one thing into the other, almost.
I used to examine the hair
on my arms when you talked to me
and push it so it would all fall
in the same direction because it made
my skin look tougher.
By the time I looked up,
my blush would be gone.
You’re trying to grow a beard but
the fuzz is still the same color
as your chin
and I can see it when you laugh. Once
we were both waiting for something in
the history room, and you sat on the windowsill.
When you spoke, your jaw
outlined your words like you suddenly
Before I would never
look at you because
I thought you’d see me, but
sometimes you’d try first. if
you noticed me you’d smile, pounding
my fist like I was cool enough.
You asked me to read poetry
at a show you were having,
and a month later
I stood on your lawn with my eyelashes
catching stray pieces of hair.
When I finished I put my paper down and
you were sprawled on the grass with
your hands in your pockets,
looking at me as if
I should be there.