Contributor Interview: Susan Rich

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.

My poem, “17 Years After Her Death, Cousin Molly Appears to Me As A Young Dancer Outside Kupel’s Bakery,” began in class with my students. For the first seven minutes of the Creative Writing class I teach, we often write. Usually, I offer them a prompt and then use the time to organize my thoughts for the class but this day I joined in. Washington State Poet Laureate has videos of writing prompts and that’s where this piece began. However, writing a poem about my cousin Molly had been inside me for the longest time.

Do you have a favorite line, image, or scene from this work?

The teen

moves her body as if she were blue water

and loudly inquires if I prefer everything bagels

or pumpernickel? She is going to have both!

These lines weave the apparition of cousin Molly with the glory of the best bagels in the world. I love being able to bring her back from the dead. Molly Daytz was my mother’s double cousin: two brothers had married two sisters. Molly was the only person in my family who loved to travel, read books, and to have honest conversations. Nothing phased her. She seemed to come from an entirely different set of ancestors than my parents. I love that she reincarnates in the poem into a young, energetic dancer. If Molly, had been born in the later part of the 20th century, I know she would have become famous or perhaps, infamous.

What is your best piece of advice for aspiring writers?

Keep writing and reading and surrounding yourself with people who do the same. Glean something new from every poem you read, every teacher you have. One of the beautiful things about saying yes to the call of writing is that you will always be a student of word and sound and syntax.

Tell us something fun, strange, or interesting about yourself. It can have to do with writing—or not!

I have always secretly wanted to be a spy or a private detective. I read the book, Harriet The Spy, three times when I was in the third grade. I loved the Encyclopedia Brown series and all of the Edith Nesbit books where a gaggle of children would go off to discover another world. Poetry, however, came much later. The only way, other than poetry, that I’ve pursued this passion is by learning how to read palms. I once took a six week course in palmistry from a palmist who was also a plumber. Years later, when I was invited to Sevilla, Spain, for a wedding, I read palms for all the guests.

What’s on the writing horizon for you/what are you working on now?

Over the summer I hope to complete my next collection of poems, A Spy in the Afterlife. The poems are (mostly) complete but the arranging and rearranging of a book is what I always struggle with. The same group of poems arranged in a different order can either break or make a collection. I hope to help the book come together with the correct ordering and not to hinder it too much. Given my lifelong desire to be a spy, I’m hoping this book is the most honest one I’ve written yet; I know it is the most intimate.

Susan Rich is the author of four poetry collections, most recently, of Cloud Pharmacy (White Pine Press). She co-edited the anthology, The Strangest of Theatres: Poets Crossing Borders published by McSweeney’s and the Poetry Foundation. Rich’s poems have appeared in all 50 States including The Antioch Review, New England Review, O Magazine, The Southern Review, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere.

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