LET'S SAY you're having coffee at Glyph Café and you happen to look down at—and then into—your table, which doubles as a glass display case. Inside, there's a small Buddha statue, or a scattering of sepia photos, or an official document: a Cambodian autopsy report; a letter from the New York Board of Education. These are the artifacts of Willa Schneberg's past, shared this month in conjunction with the Oregon Book Award winner's latest book, Rending the Garment. We prompted Schneberg via email to discuss her poetry and work.
When the personal is universal:
"Rending the Garment is an homage to my deceased parents, who lived in Brooklyn, 10 minutes away from where they were raised, most of their lives. As a narrative poet primarily, I believe it is essential to tell the story, to bear witness to the lived experience, to the challenges and triumphs of those who don't live extraordinary lives, who work 9 am to 5 pm and then come home and make supper. I believe poetry can be a vehicle for raging against oppression, terrorism, racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, and other social injustices."
One line that speaks volumes?
"That's tough. In poetry each line builds on the next. Perhaps, 'Soon it will be as if language never knew him' from the poem 'Once He Owned Language.' The book and the display in the table boxes are essentially about how fleeting life is, and death's inevitability."
Rending garments symbolizes mourning.
"In the title poem 'Rending the Garment,' I am literally tearing the red heart on an 'I Love New York' T-shirt, my version of rending garments after my mother's death. I was in NYC for her funeral a month after 9/11. The work on display and in my collection is about my father, who suffered from agoraphobia but eventually drove through tunnels alone, and my mother, who survived larynx cancer, and 'talked' by writing in notebooks [she] always [had] with her. Rending the Garment is essentially an elegiac memoir in verse, more emotional truths than facts."
"At Glyph, since the table boxes contain letters and 'written speech' that are actually in Rending the Garment, and ephemera and memorabilia that are referred to in the book, there is a particularly strong synergy, although, I do believe the table boxes and [the book] stand alone."
Willa Schneberg will read at Glyph Café (804 NW Couch) on Thurs June 12, 7:30 pm, and at Powell's Books on Hawthorne (3723 SE Hawthorne) on Sun June 22, 4 pm