As part of the launch of our Spring/Summer 2018 issue, Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts, we sat down with contributors to talk about their work in the issue and more. The following interview is part of this series. Please visit our website to see the complete list of contributors to Let Us Gather, to purchase the issue, or to subscribe.
Tell us a little about your work in Let Us Gather: Diversity and the Arts. What inspired it, how you came to write it, etc.
This poem started with a list of Hebrew words that sound or look like English words, but are actually unrelated. I set myself a goal: to write a poem with Hebrew letters that somehow allows their shapes and sounds to come across for an English-speaking audience. Transliteration isn’t enough for me. I want the beauty and inaccessibility of multi-alphabet code-switching, but I want it to sound good, like poetry should. So I started with words that sound the same, not paying attention to their meaning. Only after the words and I had hung out for a while did I try to coax some meaning out of them.
Do you have a favorite line, image, or scene from this work?
My favorite stanza is in the middle, starting with the Hebrew “HaAdam,” the character we call Adam in English. Christianity and English have created an idea of Adam as this first man, the originator of masculine gender. The poem is trying to remember who HaAdam was before English, before our contemporary understanding of what men are. It’s like trying to remember how dynamic gender was for me as a kid, who I was before I was asked to think of myself as a man, and subsequently started calling myself trans.
What is your best piece of advice for aspiring writers?
I’m someone who can get way too caught up in what I want to say, which is a prosy way to enter writing. I loved beginning with the false cognates for this poem, because it forced me to pick words, connect them through image, and only then apply any meaning. The advice I give myself is to force myself to play with language before I know what the poem means, to match sounds and shapes first. My brain and spirit know what they want to say. That’s the easy part.
Tell us something fun, strange, or interesting about yourself. It can have to do with writing—or not!
I’m a preschool music teacher, and a song leader at our local Jewish summer camp. Playing music with kids is probably the most fun work I could think of.
What’s on the writing horizon for you/what are you working on now?
I’m finishing the M.F.A. program at NCSU in May 2018. I’ve been writing poems about Shoshana, this girl-self character whose name would’ve been mine if I’d been born female. The poems are all about body parts, not her sex organs, but her tongue, her chin, her knees, and her back.
Joshua Sassoon Orol is a Jewish poet from Raleigh, North Carolina, writing with the texts, tunes, and stories passed down from their mixed heritage family. Josh is working on an M.F.A. at NCSU, and received an Academy of American Poets prize while at UNC Chapel Hill.