The art of writing #10 : Rebecca Rustin

How did you first come to poetry?

Songs, probably, show tunes; storybooks/nursery rhymes, Hebrew liturgy, Yiddish theatre, English teachers, pop songs and hip hop. I started writing it in high school. My older sister had a friend who was big into poetry. He took me to my first reading on Bernard St. And my grandmother’s best friend was an academic and a poet. She was mean. I loved her. She gave me one of those little dishes with a picture and a story on it. It was The Little Mermaid.

How does a poem begin?

In general, it’s a need to work something out, some emotion or mood or concept. Or it can be more of a musical response to a given flood of word song, like whatever combinations were running through my head from reading and listening. It can also be a way to tell a story without being confined to narrative.

Does your translation work interact at all with your poetry, or are they completely separate?

Translation work feels far away right now, even though I just signed up for a mentorship with a professional translators’ association and I’m on possibly permanent leave from a PhD with a big translation studies element. I just need to circle back to doing the actual work. Like, this week. When I started translation studies at Concordia 6 years ago, I turned back to poetry from prose fiction. Something about engaging with language that way, and we did some very basic linguistics stuff at the time, plus moving back to Montreal from Toronto – changed my focus. I needed the more abstract environment of poetry.

If there’s an interaction between translation and poetry, it’s that both practices compel me to be as precise as possible. Of course, later you come back to what you’ve said and get all Eliot about it – like nope, that wasn’t what I/they meant at all.

Have you a daily schedule by which you work, or are you working to fit this in between other activities?

Unfortunately, I’ve been experiencing instability with regard to work and living situation for some time now, and ‘schedule’ is a bit of a foreign concept. My life is more deadline-oriented? And those are erratic. Also, I’m horribly disorganized. Like I literally lose poems all the time, come across them maybe years later and go, ‘oh, so that’s where that went.’ I think I told you I promised rob a chapbook manuscript. God knows when I’ll get that done, really. Also, I fear success. And attention of any kind. Maybe I should stop using the ‘also comma’ construction for a bit.

What are your favourite print or online literary journals?

Every day I hear of a new one. I want to order the current (Spring 2019) issue of The Paris Review but it’s $20. My mom got me a subscription to The Fiddlehead. PRISM International gave me a huge break once. You guys, Train, Pioneertown and rob mclennan’s blog (Dusie) also took me on! There’s such a wealth of options online right now. I like it when poetry is free. Cosmonauts Avenue, The Offing, Shitwonder, The Rumpus…there are so many. The New Yorker under Kevin Young is publishing some great things lately.

Who are some of the writers you are reading lately that most excite you?

Marie-Andrée Gill, Emmanuelle Riendeau, Jean-Christophe Réhel, Lindsay Nixon, Charles Beaudelaire, the translator Robert Alter, and Gilles Deleuze though I don’t really know him that well and I just wanna get through Différence et répétition because it’s so good. But I probably never will. For Hoa Nguyen’s workshop we’re reading Anne Carson and Sappho.

Rebecca Rustin has written for Dusie, Train, PRISM International, Pioneertown, Maple Tree Literary Supplement and this website. The PRISM poem won the 2017 Earl Birney Prize. She currently writes marketing copy for Lionbridge, and occasionally works as a French to English translator. Maybe she will return to Concordia’s HUMA program in September 2019.

A selection of her poems appeared in the first issue.