The Sundress Academy for the Arts‘ 2018 Summer Poetry Writing Retreat will run from Friday, May 25th to Sunday, May 27th. The three-day, two-night camping retreat will be held at SAFTA’s own Firefly Farms in Knoxville, Tennessee. All SAFTA retreats focus on generative poetry writing, and this year’s poetry retreat will also include break-out sessions on writing political poetry, writing confession, kicking writer’s block, publishing, and more.
We’re getting excited about our Poetry Retreat this May! Editorial Intern, Anna Moseley, asked Ruth Awad, retreat leader a few questions about creative outlets, confessionalism, and more!
It seems that between writing, cooking, jewelry, and tattooing, you have a lot of very creative outlets. What about writing has appealed to you more than other creative pursuits?
The satisfaction I derive from writing is different than my other outlets. When I write, I feel for a fleeting second that I’ve glimpsed some tiny, elusive truth. Pinned it down or held it up to the light. That’s not something I get from tattooing or jewelry making, where my aim is namely aesthetic.
In your new book, Set to Music a Wildfire, issues such as war, immigration, and belonging are prominent figures. Did you draw inspiration wholly from your father’s experiences, or have current social issues played a role in the poems? How much of your own experiences have blended with others’ in the retelling of your father’s story?
Ongoing social issues – the Iraq War (and its aftermath), the Syrian Civil War, rampant xenophobia/Islamophobia in the U.S. – definitely informed how I thought about and wrote about my father’s experiences during the Lebanese Civil War. One of my goals for this collection was to examine the civilian cost of war, from trauma and survival to displacement and the work of making a home in another country. I am privileged enough to not have these experiences firsthand, but I have witnessed throughout my life the toll they took on my father – the guilt he felt over leaving his family and country, the hostility he faced (especially after 9/11 – I remember the classmates who said my father was a terrorist). Later in the collection, the poems follow my mother and father’s relationship. Those are mostly my experiences and memories at work.
Between your book and your essay, “In the Skin,” you speak a lot about your relationships with your parents and how those have affected you. Would you consider yourself a confessionalist, and if not, how would you describe your approach to writing about personal matters?
It seems most contemporary poetry has some confessionalist impulse, so while I see that at work in my own poems, it feels a little imprecise as a label. My hope for my work is to observe the grief and truth and cruelty and joy in this stupid world, to create something that makes these things more bearable for others. Sometimes examining the self and the personal are a means to that end. Sometimes it is necessary to turn the lens outward.
Ruth Awad is the author of Set to Music a Wildfire (Southern Indiana Review Press, 2017), which won the 2016 Michael Waters Poetry Prize. She is the recipient of a 2016 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, and she won the 2012 and 2013 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize and the 2011 Copper Nickel Poetry contest. Her work has appeared in New Republic, The Missouri Review, CALYX, Diode, The Adroit Journal, Sixth Finch, and elsewhere. Learn more at www.ruthawadpoetry.com.
Anna Moseley is currently a senior at the University of Tennessee majoring in English Literature. She has a glorious waitressing job downtown and writes as a contributor for the Arts and Culture section of the Daily Beacon. When she bothers to extract her nose from a book, Anna’s hobbies include engaging in wine-fueled political debates and looking at pictures of dogs she can’t afford.
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